Two United Nations humanitarian agencies today called for action to stop a potential famine in South Sudan which they said is being allowed to happen, just as it occurred in Somalia and the Horn of Africa three years ago.
"The world should not wait for a famine to be announced while children here are dying each and every day," said Anthony Lake, Executive Director of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF). "We all have to do more, and quickly, to keep more children alive."
Mr. Lake and World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director Ertharin Cousin visited with displaced families seeking shelter at a UN base in Malakal, in the Upper Nile state of South Sudan.
The agency heads said they fear a repeat of famines in other parts of the world, where early warnings of extreme hunger and escalating malnutrition went largely unheeded until official famine levels were announced.
"WFP, UNICEF and our partners here on the ground have been working tirelessly to bring assistance," said Ms. Cousin. "But if we are to rapidly expand our operations and save more lives, then we need more resources, and the international community has to act now."
Nearly one million children under five years of age in South Sudan will require treatment for acute malnutrition in 2014, according to the UN. In addition, one out of every three people in the country, the equivalent of 3.9 million people, is estimated to be dangerously food insecure.
An estimated 1.5 million people have been uprooted in fighting that started with a political impasse in mid-December 2013 between President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar.
At a press briefing in Geneva, WFP spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs said that the situation was particularly worrying for displaced people who have not been able to plant crops this year.
If the world fails to provide the help needed right now to accelerate and scale up life-saving food and nutrition efforts, UNICEF estimates that 50,000 children could die from malnutrition in the course of this year.
In addition, the children are at further risk from insufficient health care and access to safe water and sanitation facilities, according to the UN.