Millions of people in war-wracked South Sudan are facing a food shortage as the rainy season approaches, a top UN official warned Tuesday, denouncing inadequate funding for humanitarian aid efforts.
"We are facing the possibility of a catastrophic situation in food security," said John Ging, operations chief for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
"We are not using the word famine right now but that's what is on the horizon... for millions of vulnerable people," added Ging, who recently visited South Sudan.
He said five million people were in need of assistance, and UN agencies were having trouble pre-positioning food stocks before the onset of the rainy season.
The downpours will make already challenging roads even more difficult to navigate, and force agencies to airdrop food aid, which cost significantly more money.
More than 700,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since mid-December, when violence erupted between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and fighters loosely allied to former vice president Riek Machar.
Another 250,000 people have sought refuge in Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and neighboring Sudan.
Ging said there also had been a "rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation" in Sudan, especially in Darfur, as well as in war-torn Blue Nile and South Kordofan states.
UN appeals for the two countries have been "under-funded," Ging said.
The UN has appealed to donors for $995 million to fund aid operations in Sudan this year. So far it has obtained only $54 million.
And the appeal for $1.3 billion for South Sudan has only been funded at 24 percent, he said.
Noting that fundraising was directly linked to the UN's ability to deliver aid, Ging hit out at what he called a "lack of respect for humanitarian staff and convoys" by the warring parties, noting that food stocks had been pillaged and convoys searched.
"Humanitarian aid is not moving at the speed it needs to move," he said. "It is not acceptable." He also called on the government of South Sudan to facilitate humanitarian aid efforts.
The United States on Tuesday promised an additional $83 million in humanitarian aid to South Sudan, bringing its total to $411 million.
The warring parties resumed a second round of talks Tuesday in Addis Ababa, which is urging the sides to revive a moribund ceasefire signed on January 23. AFP
S. Sudan facing major food crisis: UN