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Agencies warn of famine in South Sudan

18 July 2014

THE spectre of famine is looming over South Sudan, three years after it celebrated its independence, charities are warning. Sectarian violence has left 1.5 million people displaced, while heavy rains have left two-thirds of the country inaccessible by road. Aid agencies are issuing urgent pleas for funds, for a crisis that has little profile in the UK.

"We will be staring into the abyss and fail to avert a famine, if funds do not start arriving soon," the chief executive of Oxfam, Mark Goldring, said last week. "It is a political crisis turned violent. . . We are asking the public to help us with our urgent humanitarian work, but mainly we are calling on governments to fund the aid effort before it is too late."

At the start of this month, the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), which includes Oxfam, Christian Aid, Tearfund, and ten other agencies, announced that its members had secured only half of the £113 million needed to address the crisis. It predicted that, if the conflict continued and more aid could not be delivered, famine would arrive in some areas by August.

"Awareness of the crisis in the UK remains very low, making a successful appeal extremely difficult," the chief executive of the DEC, Saleh Saeed, said.

Tearfund reported last week that demand at its six feeding centres in Jonglei, one of the worst-affected states, had more than quadrupled in a year. World Vision reported a funding gap of £19 million, and warned that 250,0000 children were at risk of severe malnutrition.

The UN World Food Programme has a funding shortfall of $419 million. It is aiming to reach 2.9 million people this year - a quarter of the South Sudanese population. Rations for some refugees in the country have been halved.

The crisis began in December, when an alleged coup resulted in fighting along ethnic lines ( News, 20 December). Farmers were displaced by the violence, and prevented from planting and harvesting crops. The situation has been exacerbated by the rainy season, the UN reports. Airlifts are being used to drop food in some remote areas.

On 23 June, peace talks in Addis Ababa were adjourned, after the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army, an opposition group, failed to attend. Consultations with various stakeholders, including faith groups, are continuing.

The UN estimates that seven million people in South Sudan are at risk of starvation and disease. Cholera has broken out, and malaria is described as being rampant.

Help on two wheels.

An Anglican diocese in South Sudan has distributed bicycles to farmers to help ensure that food reaches people, the Anglican Communion News Service reports. The diocese of Wau usedEU funding to purchase 38 bicycles to help farmers get produce to market.

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