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WFP: S. Sudan to Face 2015 Hunger Crisis

FILE - South Sudanese internally displaced people (IDP) sell food at the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) camp in Malakal, Oct. 16, 2014.

The World Food Program warns 2.5 million people in South Sudan are facing acute hunger next year. WFP says pre-positioning food now, before the rainy season returns in a few months, is critical to averting a hunger catastrophe in that conflict-ridden country.

The World Food Program says the acute hunger crisis facing millions of people in South Sudan is man-made. Since fighting between the government and rebels erupted one year ago, the United Nations estimates about 1.5 million people have become displaced within the country and another one-half million have sought refuge in neighboring countries.

The ongoing fighting has interrupted the planting and harvesting of crops, causing large and widespread shortages of food. WFP spokeswoman Elizabeth Byrs tells VOA the situation is critical and it is time for the guns to fall silent.

“We call upon the parties to the conflict to put the needs and aspirations of the South Sudanese people above their own interests, and to expedite agreements towards lasting peace. And for that we need also safe access to ... get access for humanitarians to pre-position our relief supplies and to ensure the safety of these food stocks for distribution,” Byrs said.

WFP has managed to provide life-saving food and nutrition support to more than 2.5 million people this year despite immense challenges. The agency has delivered relief aid to those in desperate need despite the insecurity, including the looting of its trucks.

The U.N. food agency says it expects the overall nutrition situation in South Sudan to remain dire in the coming months. It says global rates of acute malnutrition are above 15 percent - above the level considered a hunger emergency - in most parts of the country. UNICEF says it is providing therapeutic care to more than 80,000 severely acutely malnourished children under five.

The dry season has begun in South Sudan, and spokeswoman Byrs says WFP must scale up its humanitarian assistance during the next few months to help people rebuild livelihoods. She says it is crucial for the agency to start pre-positioning food stocks now in hard-to-reach areas, to prevent a dramatic shortage of food and a further deterioration of malnutrition in 2015.

“Roads are drying out slowly, and we are sending ... trucks and it allows us to use less airlift operations, because [shipping by air] costs six to seven times more than by trucks or by barge along the river. So we must absolutely save the opportunity of the beginning of the dry season now to pre-position. And to pre-position, we need safe access and we also need money,” Byrs added.

WFP says it needs $341 million for its operation in South Sudan over the next six months. Among other things, the money will pay for the agency’s fleet of 16 aircraft, which is used to move food around the country.

The agency says it prefers to use cross-border truck and barge convoys from Sudan to reduce expensive airdrops and airlifts of food.