New York, US - The UN says up to 7 million people in strife-torn South Sudan, nearly two-thirds of the total population, are at risk of some level of food insecurity, with 3.7 million already facing acute or emergency levels.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) representative in South Sudan, Ms. Sue Lautze, in a statement on Wednesday said: 'Markets have collapsed, infrastructure is damaged, foreign traders have fled, commodity supply corridors have been disrupted by violence, and rural populations are unable to bring their crops, livestock and fish to market for sale.'
She said South Sudan was already the scene of one of the world’s largest humanitarian operations before the fighting began, and the situation was now deteriorating rapidly.
The FAO said over 870,000 South Sudanese had fled their homes since fighting broke out on 15 December, more than double the 355,000 it reported just three weeks ago.
It also warned that the fighting was throwing the agricultural sector into turmoil at time when preparations should be underway for plantings or harvests.
Meanwhile the agency has received less than 6 per cent of the updated US$77 million it is seeking to implement an emergency response plan that includes providing seeds, basic tools, and fishing and community animal health equipment to assist 545,000 households in states affected by the fighting.
It noted that the severe food insecurity would be further exacerbated if farmers missed the planting season beginning in March.
Mr. Dominique Burgeon, Director of FAO’s Emergency and Rehabilitation Division, who recently visited South Sudan, said that missing the main planting season would have serious knock-on effects on food production and availability in the country in 2014 and on into 2015.
'At the moment supply corridors have been disrupted or completely shut down in many areas of the country, and farmers need urgent assistance to access vital agricultural inputs in time,' he stressed.
The FAO added that livestock production was threatened by potential disease outbreaks as unvaccinated herds mingled with vaccinated livestock, and this situation was worsened by the partial collapse of the cold chain for vaccine storage due to looting and ongoing violence.
UN agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have revised their overall crisis response plan to US$1.27 billion to meet urgent humanitarian needs in the first half of 2014.
Meanwhile, reinforcements continue to arrive to almost double the strength of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), set up after the country gained independence from Sudan in 2011, to nearly 14,000, with additional helicopters and other materiel on their way.
A contingent of 266 additional peacekeepers arrived on Tuesday with more battalions expected in the coming weeks.
In December the UN Security Council authorized an additional 5,500 troops and 423 police, bringing the total authorized numbers to 12,500 peacekeepers and 1,323 police.