March 24, 2017 0200 GMT
A further 1 million people were classified as being on the brink of famine, according to the World Food Programme (WFP) and other UN bodies. Unimpeded humanitarian access was urgently needed to reverse “an escalating catastrophe”, they added, the Guardian reported.
The famine is the first to be declared since 2011 in Somalia, where more than a quarter of a million people are estimated to have died between October 2010 and April 2012.
The UN has warned that three other countries – Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria – are at risk of famine.
Famine has been declared in parts of Unity State in the northern-central part of South Sudan.
Three years of civil war has devastated hopes that the oil-rich country would prosper when it gained independence from Sudan at the end of one of Africa’s longest running conflicts. Unity State, which borders Sudan, has been at the centre of some of the fiercest fighting, while tens of thousands have been forced to flee their homes in the face of a government offensive against opposition-held areas.
The worsening crisis in South Sudan comes as three other countries – Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria – are at risk of looming famines, agencies have warned.
About 4.9 million people – more than 40% of South Sudan’s population – are in need of urgent food, agriculture and nutrition assistance, according to an Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) update released on Monday by the government, humanitarian organizations and the WFP, The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN children’s fund, UNICEF.
The IPC update, which was based on information built up over recent months, added that the total number of food insecure people is expected to rise to 5.5 million in July if nothing is done to curb the severity and spread of the food crisis.
The IPC report, which assessed 23 of South Sudan’s 86 counties, estimates that 14 have global acute malnutrition (GAM), a measurement of the nutritional status of a population, at or above the emergency threshold of 15%. In some areas it was as high as 42%.
The WFP said it plans to provide food and nutrition assistance to 4.1 million people during this year’s “hunger season” – when food from the last harvest has run out but new crops haven’t come in yet – including emergency food, cash and nutrition assistance.
UNICEF, which said more than 1 million children are estimated to be acutely malnourished across South Sudan, plans to treat 207,000 children for severe malnutrition this year.