South Sudan starvation levels ‘alarming’: UN

JUBA – UN food experts warned Tuesday of “alarming” levels of starvation in South Sudan with food prices at record highs after two years of civil war marked by atrocities.
Fighting in the war rages despite an August agreement, and food experts have repeatedly warned parts of South Sudan’s northern Unity region are on the brink of famine.

“Alarming reports of starvation, acute malnutrition and catastrophe levels of food insecurity have been reported in areas worst affected by the ongoing violence,” the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a statement.

It warned of “a bleak forecast” for the rest of year, with “rapidly depleting food supplies and a likely protracted lean season”, adding that “food prices have reached record highs.
” The world’s youngest country is struggling to stem soaring inflation caused by the war, rampant corruption and the near collapse of the oil industry upon which the vast percentage of government foreign exchange earnings depend.

“Food insecurity has spread to areas previously considered relatively stable, highlighting the cumulative impact of conflict, economic downturn and climactic shocks,” FAO added.

Fighting has spread to previously largely peaceful Western Equatoria and Western Bahr el Ghazal regions, bread basket areas for the rest of the country.

“Increased fighting puts the upcoming agricultural season at risk, with alarming potential to impact on food security for the entirety of South Sudan,” FAO added.

Meanwhile, the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) and High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) warned Tuesday that more than 30,000 Malian refugees who have fled conflict for neighbouring Burkina Faso face severe food shortages.

“The WFP urgently needs $2.
5 million dollars (2.
23 million euros) to provide the assistance the Malians need to survive,” said Jean-Charles Dei, the organisation’s country director in Burkina Faso.
“If the new contributions are not received as a matter of urgency then 31,000 Malian refugees risk being deprived of food assistance over the coming three months,” the WFP and UNHCR said in a statement.

“The approaching dry season is the time when they are particularly vulnerable and most require support,” added the agencies, who have helping the Burkinabe government and NGOs deal with the refugee flow since 2012.

Ealier this month, the WFP said a funding gap late last year had forced it to interrupt food assistance for a month and that food rations remain reduced, leading to one in four refugees not having enough food to meet their nutritional needs.

Quite apart from the Malian influx exacerbating the need for food security, Burkina Faso is itself one of Africa’s poorest countries.

It ranks fourth bottom on the UN Development Programme’s (UNDP’s) Human Development Index in 2013 with 44.
6 percent of the population living on less than $1.
25 per day.

The WFP has previously highlighted that 8.
2 percent of Burkinabe children aged five or less suffer from moderate or severe acute malnutrition.

“Malian refugees are already exposed to the damaging effects of recurrent drought, flood and chronic poverty,” said UNHCR representative in Burkina Faso Gogo Hukportie.

Hukportie warned that without international support there was a risk that young people could resort to desperate measures, including joining armed groups, and forecast that the refugee problem would not be resolved quickly.

“To the extent that the situation in the north (of Mali) remains unstable, we expect few refugees to return to Mali in 2016,” said Hukportie.

Some 100,000 Malians in all have sought refuge across the border since 2012 as they flee militant violence.
Mali’s north fell under the control of Tuareg-led rebels and militant groups linked to Al-Qaeda in 2012.

Although the government and rebels reaching a landmark peace agreement last year UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned in a report this week that insecurity is spreading in northern and central regions.

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