By Mirjam Donath
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The scale of humanitarian operations in South Sudan is now the largest in any single country and the world's youngest nation is on the brink of catastrophe as a famine looms, the U.N. deputy peacekeeping chief said on Wednesday.
Ahead of a visit by U.N. Security Council ambassadors to Africa next week, Edmond Mulet told the 15-member council the dire situation could spark security concerns "as communities begin to compete for diminishing resources."
"After three years of independence, South Sudan is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe and a protracted internal conflict. This is a man-made crisis, and those responsible for it have been slow in resolving it," Mulet said.
At least 10,000 people have been killed since fierce fighting erupted in December, pitting President Salva Kiir's government forces against supporters of Riek Machar, his former deputy and longtime political rival.
The conflict has reopened deep ethnic tensions between Kiir's Dinka and Machar's Nuer, in a country which won independence from Sudan in 2011. Kiir and Machar agreed in May to a ceasefire and to work out details for a transitional government, but little progress has been made.
Mulet said more than one million people have been displaced by the violence and more than 400,000 have fled the country. He said the U.N. peacekeeping operation in South Sudan was sheltering nearly 100,000 civilians at its bases.
"With the prolonged presence of this considerable number of people at the facilities which were not built for such a purpose, conditions have become extremely challenging," he said.
The U.N. Security Council almost doubled the mandated number of peacekeepers in late December to 12,500 troops and 1,323 police officers. Mulet said that as of Monday there were about 10,500 troops and 1,000 police on the ground.
Aid agencies say South Sudan could be headed for the worst famine since the mid-1980s, when malnutrition swept through East Africa and killed over a million people. The onset of the rainy season restricts delivery of aid in the vast country of 12 million because it has very few paved roads.
"The scale of humanitarian operations in South Sudan has reached the point that it now constitutes the biggest aid operation inside any single country," Mulet said. "However, the capacity and funding of the humanitarian operation falls far short in the face of overwhelming needs."
Mulet said some 3.9 million people are facing alarming levels of food insecurity and that up to 50,000 children are at risk of dying as a consequence of acute malnutrition this year. There have been 5,300 cases of cholera, including 115 deaths.
The U.N. Security Council has repeatedly warned South Sudan's warring parties that it is considering imposing sanctions. The United States and the European Union have already imposed sanctions on military leaders on both sides.
(Reporting By Mirjam Donath; editing by Gunna Dickson)