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South Sudan Declares Famine As Thousands Face Starvation

UN agencies say people have run out of ways to cope.

Last updated on February 21, 2017, at 8:17 a.m. ET

Posted on February 21, 2017, at 3:30 a.m. ET

Albert Gonzalez Farran / Albert Gonzalez Farran - UNICEF

Famine in South Sudan has left 100,000 people facing starvation and nearly 8 million people in need of immediate assistance, UN agencies say.

Dire shortages, caused by the long-running civil war and subsequent economic instability, are starving thousands in Unity Province, Leer, Mayendit, and Koch counties, clustered toward the north of the country.

"They have sold their last goods, they have fled fighting, they have kept their children in school wherever possible, and they have eaten anything from grasses to bulbs to stay alive," James Elder, UNICEF's head of communications for eastern and southern Africa, told BuzzFeed News.

"They have run out of ways to cope."

Albert Gonzalez Farran / Albert Gonzalez Farran - UNICEF

South Sudan, which seceded from Sudan in 2011 to become world's newest nation, has been entangled in conflict for the past 50 years.

But following its independence, conflict between President Salva Kiir and First Vice President Riek Machar, who were once allies in the country's fight for independence, has further ravaged South Sudan. Fighting between factions aligned with Kiir and Machar has displaced more than 2 million people. As many as 50,000 people have been killed, according to the UN.

A peace deal between the two leaders was signed in 2015, and a transitional government was installed the following year — only to violently fall apart months later, plunging the country back into conflict.

South Sudan has been declared on the brink of famine twice in the past three years. But aid agencies say this time is different, because they cannot reach the affected areas.

Goran Tomasevic / Reuters

"Those facing famine today, they have been cut off by fighting and denials of humanitarian access," said Elder.

Famine, under the definition used by the UN and the World Food Program (WFP), is declared when all three of the following criteria are met: 30% of children are acutely malnourished, 20% of the population faces extreme food shortages, at least two people out of 10,000 are dying from hunger.

#Famine hits parts of #SouthSudan: 100,000 ppl facing starvation. 5 mln ppl need food, #ag & nutrition assistance… https://t.co/jej5EQwSiu

The deepest red on the center of the map above marks the area where a famine has been declared. Bright red, seen in a number of areas in the map, indicates they are in a "humanitarian emergency," with high levels of acute malnutrition resulting in death.

Areas highlighted in orange indicate there is an "acute food and livelihood crisis" — people can survive, but only by selling off any remaining possessions for food.

Those colored yellow are areas where people are "borderline food insecure," and are not eating adequately.

While nearly 100,000 people starve, the WFP, UNICEF, and FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) have warned that as many as 1 million people are on the brink of famine. This number is expected to rise if aid does not immediately reach people in affected areas.

The latest report by Relief Web indicated that almost 8 million of the country's population of around 10 million are in need of international assistance.

Albert Gonzalez Farran / Albert Gonzalez Farran - UNICEF

Sarah Nyawar looks at her child Nyamule Thuokhok, two, who has anemia and severe malnutrition in Juba, South Sudan.

Nearly 1 million children in the country are believed to be acutely malnourished.

Albert Gonzalez Farran / Albert Gonzalez Farran - UNICEF

Severely malnourished Elizabeth Kegi, almost 2 years old, rests on her mother's lap at the malnutrition ward in Al Shabbab hospital in Juba.

"If we do not reach these children with urgent aid, many of them will die," Jeremy Hopkins, UNICEF's representative in South Sudan, said.

Last year, UNICEF treated 184,000 severely malnourished children, 50% more than the number treated in 2015.

Albert Gonzalez Farran / Albert Gonzalez Farran - UNICEF

Hellen Maneno holds her baby Emmanuel Laki, who suffers from severe malnutrition.

Inflation in South Sudan has hit 800%, worsening the widespread food insecurity. According to WFP, 5.5 million could become food insecure by the end of July.

Siegfried Modola / UNICEF/Siegfried Modola

"The number of people who are food insecure has also never been this high," a spokesperson for the FAO told BuzzFeed News via email from Juba, the capital.

Unable to plant or harvest crops because of the war, people have been forced to rely on fishing and gathering wild food, including raw bulbs or grass, according to humanitarian groups in South Sudan.

Albert Gonzalez Farran / Albert Gonzalez Farran - UNICEF

Two-year-old Emmanuel Kenyi, who has severe malnutrition, watches a nurse prepare milk for him.

CORRECTION

A famine, as defined by international bodies, is declared when at least two people out of 10,000 are dying from hunger. This article previously misstated the number.

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