The World Food Program warns fighting and lack of access to the displaced in South Sudan are pushing that country towards a hunger catastrophe. WFP says this humanitarian disaster still can be prevented, but time is running out.
Before fighting erupted in mid-December between the government and rebels, 140,000 people in South Sudan were suffering from severe food shortages. Now, World Food Program spokeswoman Elizabeth Byrs says that number stands at 1.3 million.
"WFP is concerned about the food security situation and about the possibility of the food catastrophe or even famine developing over the coming year. But, we can prevent this if we act now... This disaster can be prevented. This is what I would like to point out. We can prevent, but it is absolutely critical to stop fighting," said Byrs.
But, that seems unlikely. A second truce enacted between the warring factions on May 9th broke down not long after it was signed.
So, the best hope for preventing this food crisis from turning into famine is for aid agencies to get unimpeded access to people affected by conflict.
Byrs says it is especially critical to deliver life-saving aid to people in isolated areas. She says this is becoming increasingly difficult because the rainy season started earlier than usual this year. This means aid agencies did not have enough time to pre-position relief supplies needed to help people through the coming difficult months.
"Sixty percent of the road will be impassable in the next few weeks. That is why the scaling up of our operation is vital and it is crucial to prevent the most vulnerable to slide into hunger," she said.
The situation is most dire in the conflict-affected states of Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile. WFP reports three-quarters of the population in Unity state is short of food, and that is predicted to rise to 85 percent in the next three months.
Byrs says WFP will be increasing its use of airdrops and airlifts to bring food to these remote areas. But, she notes the cost of this air operation is five times as expensive as that of transporting goods by road.
She says the agency also is ramping up its efforts to increase food deliveries by river. She says a barge convoy is being loaded with 1,200 metric tons of food in South Sudan's capital city Juba. She says the barge will set sail in the coming days for the towns of Malakal and Melut with food destined for thousands of refugees and internally displaced people.