Nairobi — With war raging, 1.5 million displaced and famine on the horizon, there is little for South Sudan to celebrate on its third anniversary of independence.
More than 1.1 million people - more than half of them children - are living in makeshift shelters within South Sudan with limited or no access to aid, according to the United Nations. Four million people - more than a third of the population - are facing emergency levels of food insecurity, and 50,000 malnourished children under 5 are likely to die this year unless they can be reached.
"What is there to celebrate when I don't feel free?" one human rights defender told Amnesty International.
South Sudan has been in political turmoil since President Salva Kiir sacked his deputy Riek Machar last year, triggering a conflict that has reopened deep ethnic tensions in the world's youngest country which won independence from Sudan in 2011.
The U.N. said on Tuesday that it has only been able to reach about 10 percent of 675,000 children requiring treatment for malnutrition,
"Many people driven from their homes have to walk for days with nothing to eat before they reach towns like the state capital of Bentiu in the hope of finding assistance," the UNICEF's representative Jonathan Veitch said in a statement.
"Some of them, particularly children, arrive so badly malnourished there is nothing that can be done to save them."
More than 100,000 people have sought sanctuary in U.N. bases around the country. In these camps, people are living in atrocious conditions, walking knee deep in mud and water, Oxfam said.
They are the lucky ones. In remote villages, people are slowly starving.
"Experienced humanitarian staff returning from deep field locations report conditions worse than they have ever seen," said Joyce Luma, World Food Programme country director.
"We urgently need funds and partners to be able to expand coverage and establish a fixed presence in remote areas to support food and nutrition activities if we are to have any chance of avoiding an impending disaster."
WORKING WITHOUT PAY
The U.N., meanwhile, called on the government to pay its frontline staff.
"We salute the health workers, field extension agents, Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (RRC) staff and the many others who have remained in their positions, often working without salaries and support," Sue Lautze, the U.N.'s acting humanitarian coordinator said in a statement on Wednesday.
"We urge the Government of the Republic of South Sudan to restore budgets to these core functions - including for workers still in their positions in opposition-held territory."
Ceasefires agreed in January and May have not held, and clashes continue in the three worst affected states, Unity, Jonglei and Upper Nile.
The International Crisis Group think tank said the war is in danger of escalating.
"Conflict has broken out in Greater Bahr el Ghazal, and rising tensions threaten to drag in the relatively peaceful Equatorian states," it said.
Only $808 million of the $1.8 billion requested for the overall humanitarian response to the crisis has been secured, according to the U.N.
"The world's attention is elsewhere as Africa's worst humanitarian catastrophe descends into more misery," said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International.
"We will be staring into the abyss and fail to avert a famine if funds do not start arriving soon."