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Number Of Hungry People in Southern Sudan Quadruples

The World Food Program increased food aid to people affected by inter-tribal clashes in Southern Sudan in 2009 (File)

The World Food Program reports more than four times as many people this year are going hungry in southern Sudan than in 2009. WFP says 4.3 million people this year compared to one million last year are in need of food assistance.

The World Food Program blames conflict and drought for triggering the hunger emergency in Sudan. A peace agreement between the north and south in 2005 may have ended the country's 20 year civil war. Nevertheless, southern Sudan remains an area of great instability.

The United Nations reports conflict in 2009 killed 2,500 people and displaced 350,000 from their homes in southern Sudan. It says Jonglei State has the highest number of people in need of food assistance.

U.N. officials explain internal conflict and incursions from the Ugandan rebel Lord's Resistance Army together with drought have made almost half the population of southern Sudan short of food.

World Food Program spokeswoman, Emilia Casella, says the crop yield last year was particularly bad because of severe drought. And, she says the first crop in southern Sudan completely failed in many areas and the second planting season also was well below average.

"The food prices have gone up really very, very high and a lot of people are in a situation where they have to sell everything that they have got," said Casella. "They have to sell also cattle, but at the same time their cattle prices have gone down very, very dramatically. So that really means that peoples' ability to feed their families had dramatically reduced. Not just for people who had returned after the conflict, but also residents who had been there throughout," she said.

The World Food Program is planning to feed 1.5 million people in southern Sudan this year. Casella says her agency is moving 50,000 metric tons of food into the region. She says this has to be done before the rainy season starts in a couple of months and many areas are cut off from assistance.

"We are also planning to do a program of blanket supplementary feeding for all children under the age of five during the hunger period to support their nutrition during that period as well as reaching more than 400,000 children with school feeding, as well as some programs to give children food at school that they can take home for their families," said Casella.

Sudan is WFP's biggest operation. The U.N. food agency has appealed for $915 million to feed 11 million people this year throughout the country.

So far, less than half of that amount has been received.