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Alarming Number of People Facing Hunger in South Sudan

FILE - A woman carries a baby as she talks with other women talk at a food distribution center in Minkaman, Lakes State, South Sudan, June 27, 2014.

The International Committee of the Red Cross warns hundreds of thousands of people in South Sudan are facing starvation and are in urgent need of international assistance to survive. The ICRC is appealing for an additional $19 million to cover some of the war-torn country’s massive and growing humanitarian needs.

South Sudan has largely faded from the international headlines and become of one of several silent or forgotten crises.

But for the International Committee of the Red Cross, there is nothing silent about the tragedies affecting the estimated 1.2 million internally displaced people, as well as the 440,000 South Sudanese who have taken refuge in neighboring countries.

The humanitarian agency says hundreds of thousands of those displaced are living in camps or temporary settlements, with many in remote locations far from services.

The ICRC‘s head of operations for East Africa, Eric Marclay, says the organization needs an extra $19 million to make sure these South Sudanese do not starve.

“Basically, to ensure their survival for 150,000 people that will be served. We have forecast that they will not be able to be self-sustainable in the months to come... We want to make sure that these ones at least will not die of malnutrition,” he said.

The U.N. Children’s Fund reports nearly one-quarter million children are suffering severe acute malnutrition. The agency warns as many as 50,000 children are at risk of death if they do not receive appropriate treatment.

The rainy season, which is due to last until the end of the year, and lack of security are hampering the ICRC’s ability to deliver food by airplane or road. It is using airdrops, smaller aircraft and helicopters, which adds to the expense of the operation.

The United Nations estimates at least 10,000 people have been killed and many wounded since fighting erupted between the government and rebels in mid-December. Eric Marclay says Red Cross specialized medical teams have been operating from the beginning of the conflict.

“We have four surgical teams that are flying from one place to another where there are needs ... We will be very close to 3,000 surgical interventions since December ... It is a significant operation and a significant figure,” he said.

One of the agency’s major activities in South Sudan is the protection of civilians and prisoners in areas of conflict. Marclay says the ICRC has received permission from both warring parties to visit places of detention and its staff is visiting nearly 4,000 detainees. He says the ICRC provides food, water, hygiene material, and some medication to prisoners from time to time.