People in South Sudan currently face the highest levels of food insecurity recorded since the country's independence from Sudan 10 years ago, said a UN official.
More than 60 per cent of the total estimated population of 12.78 million people are severely food insecure, Xinhua news agency quoted Reena Ghelani, director for operations and advocacy at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as saying.
The UN estimated in December 2020 that 2.4 million people faced emergency levels of acute food insecurity.
Between April and July 2021, some 108,000 people faced catastrophic levels of acute food insecurity, at the height of the lean season, she told the Security Council in a briefing on the humanitarian situation in South Sudan.
"The combined effects of conflict, climate shocks, displacement, the socio-economic impact of Covid-19, and the lack of investments in infrastructure and basic services have driven people deeper into need," she said.
More than 8.3 million people currently need humanitarian assistance, including 1.4 million children, said Ghelani.
Aid agencies assisted some 4.4 million people across the country between January and June 2021 with food, medical and nutritional care, water and sanitation, protection support, and shelter.
Notwithstanding these gains, there has been limited change in the behaviour of non-state armed groups and certain youth groups that continue to hamper access, she said.
Since the beginning of this year, four aid workers have lost their lives in the line of duty. And over 170 aid workers had to relocate due to security threats, she said.
The destruction and looting of humanitarian facilities has continued, including the looting of over 1,000 metric tonnes of food, valued at more than $1 million.
In addition, frequent attacks on civilians and humanitarian convoys and roadside ambushes have disrupted operations and resulted in increased prices of essential goods for an already vulnerable population she said.
An alarming development this year has been the interference of aid activities by armed youth, she added.
The humanitarian needs have further been exacerbated by exceptional flooding for a third consecutive year, affecting so far nearly 420,000 people. With more heavy rains expected in the coming months, thousands of people will be forced to move from their places and their homes and will require assistance and livelihood support, said Ghelani.
As South Sudan emerges from the lean season with hopes for the harvest season, there is a risk that flooding may lessen any food security gains, which would contribute to extreme food insecurity recurring next year, she warned.
The South Sudan humanitarian response plan of $1.7 billion is the largest ever for South Sudan, but it is only 56 per cent funded, she said.
Funding challenges have forced the World Food Programme (WFP) to reduce the scale of food rations in all refugee, protection-of-civilian camps and camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) from April this year, affecting 700,000 people.
In October, the WFP will be forced to stop support in some other IDP camps due to supplies being reallocated or reprioritised to counties where people are at the brink of famine. Should resources become available, the WFP would resume assistance to 106,000 affected people in these camps, she said.
South Sudan is also on alert for a resurgence of Covid-19, driven by the Delta variant. Measures adopted to mitigate and prevent the spread of the virus have had a limited impact due to the challenges and the lack of ability of the health system to carry out vaccinations and low uptake of the vaccination, she said.
To prevent famine in South Sudan next year, the UN official asked all actors with influence to work to de-escalate the violence in South Sudan.
While the peace process has had a real impact in parts of South Sudan, its implementation has progressed at a slow pace, and violence continues to interrupt the process, she said.
Humanitarians need continued support from the government of South Sudan for safe and unhindered access to reach people who desperately need help, she said.
While resources are needed now for the humanitarian response plan to sustain the response, donors are urged to give funding at scale early in 2022, so that humanitarians can get ahead of the needs which are anticipated to rise, she said.