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Aid Agencies: Millions in South Sudan Risk Starvation

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - A photo of some of the thousands of people who flocked into Leer town, South Sudan, to receive food from the International Committee of the Red Cross, Dec. 15, 2015.

FILE - A photo of some of the thousands of people who flocked into Leer town, South Sudan, to receive food from the International Committee of the Red Cross, Dec. 15, 2015.

U.N. aid agencies warn millions of people in South Sudan risk starvation as the food crisis in the war-torn country escalates.

The promise of a bright future held out when South Sudan gained its independence in July 2011 has turned sour after more than two years of civil war. More than 1.5 million people have become internally displaced and at least 750,000 have fled to neighboring countries in search of refuge.

Compounding the misery is a U.N. assessment that 2.8 million South Sudanese, nearly 25 percent of the country’s population, are going hungry and need assistance. Of this number, they say at least 40,000 people living in conflict-affected Unity State and other hard-to-reach areas are on the brink of catastrophe.

World Food Program spokeswoman Bettina Luescher tells VOA children are very vulnerable.

She says children who do not get enough food in the first 1,000 days of their lives will suffer long-term consequences. Those who do not die, she says, will suffer from physical and mental impairment.

“It is important that our aid reaches those people before it is too late," said Luescher. "I mean some of the anecdotes you get, for example in some areas people are surviving on fish and water lilies, and now that the dry season is coming even that only nourishment of water lilies will wither away because the rivers will not be flooded anymore.”

The Food and Agriculture Organization and the U.N. children’s fund are joining WFP in appealing to the warring factions to speedily implement the peace agreement they signed last year. They are calling for unrestricted access to conflict areas to deliver aid to the most affected areas.

They say it is critical they be allowed to pre-position food and other aid during the current dry season. This, they say, will make it possible for them to continue to assist people after roads become impassable once the rains come.

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