Millions in South Sudan 'one step away from famine'
Despite two million people fleeing the country over the past four years, seven million people inside the country – "almost two-thirds of the remaining population" – still need humanitarian aid, Mark Lowcock told the UN Security Council, adding that by early 2018 half the country’s population will be reliant on emergency food aid.
"The next lean season beginning in March is likely to see famine conditions in several locations across the country," Lowcock said.
"We were able to reverse famine conditions this year with significant resources and risks and we must avoid a repeat of this."
Jean-Pierre Lacroix, UN peacekeeping chief, described the situation in South Sudan as "precarious" and warned of escalating military conflict and inter-communal fighting.
He added that conflict-related human rights violations continue including looting, house burning, killing of civilians, arbitrary arrests and sexual violence, "with organised forces being implicated as perpetrators in most instances."
|Conflict-related human rights violations continue including looting, house burning, killing of civilians, arbitrary arrests and sexual violence|
Lacroix urged the Security Council "to remain vigilant and exert more effort to condemn and stop the violence, protect civilians and urgently facilitate a political settlement of the conflict."
He said the forum and a national dialogue under way at the local level in South Sudan "can address the spiralling crisis, if well-coordinated."
"But fighting cannot continue in tandem with efforts to craft a durable peace," he warned. "The two are simply incompatible."
Last week, the US threatened to take unspecified measures against South Sudan's government unless it moves to end the nearly four-year war and stop harassing UN peacekeepers and aid workers.
A report released by UN sanctions monitors accused the government of using food aid as a weapon of war during its campaign against opposition rebels in the northwestern city of Wau.
After aid finally reached civilians in August – the first time in a year – humanitarian workers "witnessed significantly high levels of malnutrition, with high rates of severe acute malnutrition," the report said.
Between January and September, 164 young children and elderly persons died from hunger and disease in that area, it said.
The United States is South Sudan's biggest aid provider and a key supporter of its 2011 independence from Sudan.
South Sudan descended into war in December 2013 when Kiir accused Riek Machar, his former deputy, of plotting a coup.
Tens of thousands have died in the fighting and nearly four million have been driven from their homes.