UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 16 (Xinhua) -- UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock warned on Wednesday that food insecurity is rising again in South Sudan despite political progress.
Nearly 6.5 million people, more than half of the population, faced severe food insecurity at the height of the annual hunger season a few months ago. COVID-19 has made this worse. Another 1.6 million vulnerable people, most of them in urban settings and cities, have been pushed to the brink as well, Lowcock told the Security Council.
Overall this year, 7.5 million people now need humanitarian assistance. That is close to levels in 2017 when he warned of famine. Some 1.3 million children under the age of 5 are forecast to be malnourished, the highest number in four years. Put another way, about 10 percent of the entire population of South Sudan will be malnourished children who have not yet reached their fifth birthday, he said.
South Sudan's economy is contracting as a result of lower global oil prices and the wider global recession. The government has little money to respond to the health and socio-economic impacts of COVID-19, said Lowcock.
COVID-19 is also adding to the pressure on an already fragile health system. Years of conflict devastated basic services, including the health care system. South Sudan has one of the highest under 5 mortality rates in the world. Around three-quarters of all child deaths in South Sudan arise from preventable diseases like diarrhea, malaria and pneumonia, with malnourished children succumbing where the better fed would not, he said.
Two consecutive years of severe flooding exacerbated food insecurity, as well as malnutrition, and displacement. Last year, nearly 1 million people were affected. The floods started earlier this year and more than half a million people have so far been affected. It is feared that the worst is yet to come, with the peak of flooding season normally in November and December, said Lowcock.
Humanitarian access has been challenging in South Sudan for years. But the pandemic, along with increased violence in some areas, has magnified pre-existing access challenges. Humanitarian agencies' capacity to reach people who need aid is now limited in some areas, he said.
South Sudan also remains one of the most dangerous places in the world for an aid worker. At least 122 aid workers have been killed since 2013. This year, seven aid workers have lost their lives. Another 144 have had to be evacuated and relocated as a result of threats to their security. Aid supplies have been looted on at least 17 occasions. And a number of health centers have been forced to suspend activities, interrupting life-saving services, he said.
Despite the challenges, the humanitarian response in South Sudan is keeping millions of people from sliding into famine. Aid agencies have assisted more than 5 million people across South Sudan in 2020, said Lowcock.
But he cautioned that continued funding is needed to sustain health services and other life-saving programs. As a result of the fighting, flooding and COVID19, funding needs continue to grow. The South Sudan humanitarian response plan is now larger than ever, at 1.9 billion U.S. dollars for this year. About a third of that has been funded so far, he said. Enditem