Access vital to prevent spread of S. Sudan famine – Relief Chief

United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O'Brien in South Sudan
Stephen O'Brien during a meeting with some of the starving people in South Sudan.

Hundreds of thousands of people in South Sudan will starve unless relief workers gain access to needy populations and more funding is raised, the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien has warned.

The warning came after O’Brien’s meeting with malnourished children in Ganyiel, Southern Unity state, considered one of the most violent areas in the fight for political control of the country. The children are part of the thousands of people that fled the raging conflict in South Sudan.

He was in South Sudan for a two day visit to witness the critical humanitarian situation and the response which his agency, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), is assisting.

Among the people he met was a starving boy whose grandmother carried him through a waist-high swamp to get away from the fighting. “This starving baby boy escaped attack on grandmother’s back. Parents missing. 1000’s similar. Horrendous,” O’Brien wrote on social media and shared several photos of people who had fled the fighting and sexual violence.

He added that the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan is rapidly escalating, and hunger and malnutrition have reached new disturbing levels. People are now surviving on water lilies.

He called for “immediate and unhindered access” to people in need of aid as well as funding for the US$ 1.6 billion (5.7 trillion Shillings) humanitarian appeal to provide life-saving assistance and protection to some 5.8 million people across South Sudan in 2017.

“Millions of people prevented from receiving aid by parties to conflict. Immoral, unlawful and unacceptable. We need access now,” O’Brien said.

The UN declared a famine in parts of South Sudan on February 20, increasingly blaming the lack of food and the collapsing economy on the rival forces of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) loyal to President Salva Kiir and the SPLA in Opposition backing Riek Machar.

A formal declaration of famine means that people have already started dying of hunger.

About 100,000 people are facing starvation, and an additional one million are on the brink of a famine, according to the UN. The total number of food insecure people is expected to rise to 5.5 million at the height of the lean season in July if nothing is done to curb the severity and spread of the food crisis.

The situation is worsened for the 3.4 million Sudanese, some of whom O’Brien met yesterday who have been displaced and separated from their families. O’Brien went to South Sudan from Kenya and previously, from Yemen. He is next scheduled to visit Somalia.

– Uganda Radio Network