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Thousands at risk of starvation in South Sudan as famine is declared

By Justin Lynch

Irish aid agencies have warned of dire consequences and the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives after famine was declared in two counties of South Sudan.

The calamity is the result of prolonged civil war and an entrenched economic crisis that has devastated the war-torn East African nation, UN agencies said.

The official classification of famine highlights the human suffering caused by South Sudan's three-year civil war and even as it is declared, President Salva Kiir's government is blocking food aid to some areas, according to UN officials.

More than 100,000 people in two counties of Unity state are experiencing famine and there are fears that the famine will spread, as an additional one million South Sudanese are on the brink of starvation.

"Our worst fears have been realised," said Serge Tissot, head of the Food and Agriculture Organisation in South Sudan.

He said the war has disrupted the otherwise fertile country, causing civilians to rely on "whatever plants they can find and fish they can catch".

Roughly 5.5m people, or about 50% of South Sudan's population, are expected to be severely food insecure and at risk of death in the coming months.

If food aid does not reach children urgently "many of them will die", said Jeremy Hopkins, head of the UN children's agency in South Sudan.

More than 250,000 children are severely malnourished, Mr Hopkins said, meaning they are at risk of death.

Oxfam Ireland chief executive Jim Clarken, who lived and worked in the region at the time of South Sudan's independence, said: "This is a man-made tragedy, and we are running out of time to avoid it getting worse.

"In over 30 years working in the affected areas, Oxfam has never witnessed such dire need.

"Vulnerable people, out of reach of life-saving assistance due to the conflict, are paying the ultimate price.

"People have been pushed to the brink of surviving on what they can find to eat in swamps.

"As so often in a crisis, women and children are being the worst affected. We need an end to the fighting so that we can get food to those that urgently need it and provide them with support to rebuild their shattered lives".

Around five million people will need emergency food aid over the coming months, according to Irish aid agency Trocaire.

"People are living on berries and leaves in South Sudan and things are set to get much worse" said Sean Farrell, director of Trocaire's international division, who returned from the country last week. "Right now 100,000 people are in famine and do not have enough food for the day, let alone tomorrow or next month."

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