UN children's agency warns of south Sudan famine

AP News
Posted: Nov 12, 2009 4:33 PM

The deputy head of the U.N. children's agency said Thursday that a famine is looming in southern Sudan because of scarce rainfall and inadequate foreign funds for the region.

Emergency malnutrition levels in children have nearly doubled in at least two out of the 10 southern states, said Hilda Johnson of UNICEF.

Johnson, who spoke to The Associated Press following a tour of several towns and villages hardest hit by the drought, said two other states are closely monitored for similar conditions.

Two of the ten states have "no crops coming out this year," she said "The malnutrition in children there is already at a very, very high emergency level ... and there is absolutely no food."

South Sudan lies in a drought-prone belt of Africa but the situation there has been exacerbated by rising intertribal violence that has claimed 2,000 lives since the start of 2009. A budget crunch on the government of southern Sudan because of the financial crisis has also put strains on the available resources.

Also, South Sudan never fully recovered from the devastating north-south civil war of over 21 years, that left 2 million people dead and many more displaced. That conflict is separate from the war in the western Sudanese region of Darfur.

Johnson said nearly 1.5 million people have already been affected by the drought in the war-ravaged south that has a population of over 8 million. The number of the affected is likely to rise by February, she said.

"If we do not provide assistance, the situation doesn't improve," Johnson said in a telephone interview from the city of Juba in southern Sudan. "And if we are seeing that no adequate assistance has been flown in from the agencies then we can see a famine."

Johnson also said it has been a difficult year in terms of commitment from international donors. Despite a revised southern Sudan appeal to take into account the global financial crisis, only 55 percent of money needed has come through. In addition to the $30 million overdue to her agency, she also appealed for additional funding.

Johnson said she believed the evolving emergency would not impact the 2005 north-south peace agreement, which passes through a critical juncture in April 2010 with the first ever nationwide elections.