Famine hits South Sudan, about half the country will lack reliable access to affordable food by July?

A woman cooks a meal in the town of Pibor, Boma state, east of South Sudan. Photograph:( Reuters )

Reuters Juba, Central Equatoria, South Sudan Feb 21, 2017, 12.31 AM (IST)

Parts of war-ravaged South Sudan have been hit by famine, a government official said on Monday, saying nearly half the country's population would lack reliable access to affordable food by July. 

Oil-rich South Sudan has been mired in civil war since 2013, when President Salva Kii fired his deputy. Since then the fighting has increasingly split the country along ethnic lines, leading the United Nations to warn of a potential genocide. 

The fighting has prevented many farmers from harvesting their crops while hyper inflation which reached more than 800 per cent last year has put the price of imported food beyond the reach of many. 

Parts of the country have also been hit by drought. 

Chairman of South Sudan's National Bureau of Statistic Isaiah Chol Aruai said 4.9 million people what is termed "food insecure" between February and April, with that number rising to 5.5 million by July.

"The long term effects of the conflict coupled with high food prices, economic crisis, low agricultural production and depleted livelihood options are all contributing to deterioration of food security situation," he told a news conference in Juba. 

According to the United Nations, famine is declared when at least 20 per cent of households in an area face extreme food shortages, acute malnutrition rates exceed 30 per cent, and two or more people per 10,000 are dying per day.

United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator Eugene Owuso said that food insecurity is largely because of conflict as well as other factors.

"Largely because of the insecurity, is largely because the access challenges humanitarians have periodically had, it's also because of attacks on humanitarian workers and also the looting of humanitarian assets," he said.

Many parts of the country are very hard to reach. Six years after independence from neighbouring Sudan, South Sudan only has only 200 km (120 miles) of paved roads in a nation the size of Texas. Fighting also impedes aid delivery; warehouses have been looted and aid workers have been killed.