The United Nations and its agencies have branded the famine declared in certain parts of South Sudan, man-made.

Three agencies, including the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the UN Children’s Fund and the World Food Programme on Monday warned that while 100 000 people face starvation in the war-torn country, some five million people or more than 40% of the country’s entire population urgently need food, agriculture and nutrition assistance.

There is a grim picture of a country teetering on the brink.

As aid agencies struggle to meet the rising demands in a country where almost all systems have failed to protect the most vulnerable, UN Secretary General’s deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq says it is a man-made famine.

“This is not caused by climatic conditions so it’s extremely disturbing that the sort of crisis that we’ve had for the past several years in South Sudan has brought us to this point. We had been warning as you know in past years that if people did not have the safety to harvest crops, to do the sort of planting and farming that they need to do, that you would get to this sort of point where a large number of people cannot feed themselves and now we are at that point and it’s a real problem.”

The ethnic based conflict started in 2013, pitting political rivals President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar against each other killing tens of thousands, while displacing millions from their homes.

While famine conditions have so far only been found in two counties in the country, the total number of food insecure people is expected to rise after three years of conflict severely undermined crop production and rural livelihoods.

“Three UN agencies have warned that war and a collapsing economy have left some 100 000 people facing starvation in parts of South Sudan where famine was declared on Monday. A further one million people are on the brink of famine. The situation is the worst hunger catastrophe since fighting erupted in the country more than three years ago,” says Haq.

With aid agencies desperate to scale up their response, Haq called for unimpeded access for humanitarian agencies working on the ground.

“The Food and Agriculture Organisation, the UN Children’s Fund and WFP also called for urgent action to prevent more people from dying of hunger. If sustained an adequate assistance is delivered urgently, the situation can be improved in the coming months and further suffering mitigated. Unimpeded humanitarian access to everyone facing famine or at the risk of famine is urgently needed to reverse the escalating catastrophe.”

In addition, the UN has consistently warned of possible genocide in South Sudan in one of the biggest human emergencies in Africa.

– By Sherwin Bryce-Pease