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UN: 1.5 Million South Sudanese on Brink of Famine

FILE - Elizabeth Nyakoda holds her severely malnourished 10-month old daughter at the feeding center for children in Jiech, Ayod County, South Sudan, Dec. 10, 2017.

The United Nations warned Wednesday that 1.5 million South Sudanese are on the brink of famine and 20,000 are already in famine conditions.

"The next lean season, which begins in March, is likely to see food security worsen, and could see famine conditions spread to several new locations across the country," deputy U.N. humanitarian chief Ursula Mueller warned.

Mueller told Security Council members that more than 5 million South Sudanese nearly half its population of 12 million are believed to be severely food insecure.

The U.N. has asked for $1.7 billion for 2018 to meet rising humanitarian needs there.

Mueller said the worsening food situation is linked to the population's inability to plant or harvest because of conflict, displacement and destruction of assets.

Aid workers face constant challenges in reaching vulnerable populations, including threats to their own lives, kidnappings, extortion, excessive checkpoints, harassment and intimidation. Last year, at least 28 humanitarian workers were killed while working in South Sudan.

But despite the dangers, the U.N. and its partners reached more than 5.4 million South Sudanese in 2017, providing critical assistance.