South Sudan May Be on the Verge of Another Famine

(Bloomberg) -- War-torn South Sudan is at risk of relapsing into famine in early 2019, United Nations agencies and a local official said, even as rival sides vow to end almost five years of brutal conflict.

About 36,000 people in Jonglei state and the former states of Western Bahr el-Ghazal and Unity may face famine between January and March, partly due to an earlier-than-normal lean season, the national statistic bureau’s chairman, Isaiah Chol Aruai, told reporters Friday in the capital, Juba. An estimated 5.2 million people may be in a “crisis hunger situation” over the same period, he said.

The warning comes as South Sudan’s government and some rebels pledge to form a transitional government by May to end the civil war that began in December 2013 and has caused a humanitarian disaster. The bureau said the famine risk was especially high in the counties of Pibor, Leer and Mayendit -- the latter two of which fell into a famine in early 2017 that was quelled by large-scale relief efforts.

The extremely high levels of hunger are entirely caused by the conflict, Simon Cammelbeeck, the World Food Programme’s acting country director in South Sudan, said in a joint statement with other UN agencies. “We hope the latest peace deal will result in real changes on the ground,” he said.

Aruai said counties where access to humanitarian aid is limited are of the greatest concern. The return of civilians who fled fighting “may cause further pressure on already scarce resources on top of insecurity, poor harvests, lack of freedom of movement and extreme depletion of livelihoods,” he said.

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