The World Food Programme (WFP) on Friday said no fewer than seven million people faced acute food shortages, and more than 20,000 close to famine in South Sudan.
The disclosure, which came in a statement on WFP website, followed years of violent unrest and “vicious rights abuses linked to mass displacement, food shortages and disease outbreaks” in the country.
It coincides with the release of updated data on hunger levels in the country, according to a statement on the United Nations website.
“It is famine-like, but you cannot call it famine, because you can only call (it) famine if you have a certain number of criteria.
“This includes the number of people affected. We are not at that number, that level, to use the word famine.
“We cannot use the word famine, but they live in conditions that are equivalent to a famine, if there was many more,” WFP spokesperson, Hervé Verhoosel, said.
According to Friday’s food insecurity report, an estimated 21,000 South Sudanese will likely face a “catastrophic lack of food access” by the end of July, in the middle of the rainy season.
It said that more than 1.8 million were set to endure “emergency” food shortages, while five million were expected to be in “crisis”.
“Compared to forecasts made in January, the updated hunger estimates reckon on another 81,000 people facing “a highly stressed and critical lack of food”, particularly in Jonglei, Lakes and Unity states”, WFP said.
Already in South Sudan, the UN agency noted that food and fuel prices had increased, while trade and local markets had been disrupted, depleting the country’s food stocks.
WFP says that it currently assists more than 2.7 million people in South Sudan, and plans to scale up aid to 5.1 million by December, to meet seasonal needs, using a combination of food and cash distributions.
For the first time in many years, WFP has also prepositioned 173,000 tonnes of food in some 60 areas ahead of the rainy season, 66,000 tonnes more than at the same point in 2018.
This helps to “save lives” while also reducing delivery costs as the food can be transported by road – and not air – before the rains render them impassable.
Verhoosel stressed that the success of the operation depended on the “effective implementation of the peace agreement in South Sudan and political stability”.
These, it said, were to allow urgent and scaled-up humanitarian assistance to protect livelihoods and boost agricultural production across the country and save lives.