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Tuesday, 21 February 2017 - 10:20am

More than one million children in war-torn South Sudan risk starvation, Save the Children is warning, as a famine is declared in the country’s Unity State.

The latest government and Famine Early Warning Systems figures predict that 4.9 million people (nearly half the country’s population) will be in a food crisis across the country, many of them close to famine level, between now and April. This includes at least one million children. That figure is expected to jump to 5.5 million people at the height of the lean season in July.

The number of people facing emergency food crisis levels is up by 36% per cent, making this the worst harvest season since South Sudan became the world’s newest nation in 2011.

Children, particularly under-fives, are the most at risk of dying as they are less able to withstand acute malnutrition and are more susceptible to diseases such as measles, malaria and cholera.

“While the threat of a famine in South Sudan has been looming for months, the worst-case scenario has now become a devastating reality in parts of the country. In the coming months, famine could spread to other parts of the country, where millions of vulnerable children and families now risk starving to death,” said Pete Walsh, Save the Children’s Country Director in South Sudan.

“There is still time to save countless lives, but only if the international community acts now to step up its funding efforts. Delays will surely spell catastrophe and death for whole communities hit by drought and conflict.”

The deepening hunger crisis in South Sudan comes as the situation also worsens across the Horn of Africa, stretching aid agencies’ funds and ability to respond. Fourteen million people across Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya are facing severe food and water shortages, and last month a pre-famine early warning alert was issued for Somalia. In 2011-2012, nearly 260,000 people died in Somalia when a famine hit the southern regions.

Workers at Save the Children-supported health clinics and hospitals in Puntland – one of the areas hardest hit by drought in Somalia – are already seeing a significant increase in severe malnutrition cases among children coming through their doors.

The conflict in South Sudan has had a devastating impact on food security. Since the outbreak of renewed fighting in Juba in July last year, the conflict has now spread to other parts of the country including Central and Eastern Equatoria – an area often described as South Sudan’s food basket.

As well as directly destroying crops, the conflict has caused farmers to flee their homes, preventing them from planting or harvesting. This renewed fighting has also made trade routes more difficult to access, driving up food prices, making it more difficult for aid agencies to distribute food supplies and resulting in some areas being completely cut off from all food supplies, leaving markets empty.

Since the outbreak of fighting in December 2013, the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan has spiralled, with more than three million people – including more than 9,000 unaccompanied children – fleeing the conflict and seeking refuge in neighbouring countries.

South Sudan is need of USD1.6 billion to provide life-saving assistance and protection to more than 7.5 million people across South Sudan in 2017.

Save the Children is responding to the hunger crisis in South Sudan through mass screening for malnutrition, running feeding programmes and stabilisation health centres, follow up outpatient programmes and training community nutrition workers to do home visits. The aid agency is also training farmers with improved farming techniques and providing them with staple crop seeds, as well as providing mothers at nutrition centres with short cycle crops and vegetable seeds.