, BOR, Nov 9 – Southern Sudan faces potential famine and the risk of further ethnic conflict, with over one million people already hit by serious food insecurity, the UN Children’s Fund deputy head warned Sunday.
A second year of poor or badly timed rains, coupled with months of insecurity between rival ethnic groups, threatens to have a "serious impact" on children’s lives if swift action is not taken, said Hilde Johnson, deputy executive director of UNICEF, on a visit to Sudan.
"The crisis is going to hit very, very hard," Johnson said, speaking in Bor, the capital of Jonglei state and one of hardest hit areas.
"We are just seeing the beginning of it — we have at the moment 1.2 million people in southern Sudan affected by a serious food insecurity situation," she added.
The dry season is just beginning in the south, but people are already hungry with the failure of harvests, and the situation is expected to worsen in coming months as the few reserves of food are used up.
Poor rains in recent weeks mean that local cattle herders are expected to begin shifting their herds soon to find fresh pastures and water, bringing them into conflict with rival ethnic groups in the region.
"If we are not able to handle the situation well, we can expect very, very significant levels which can border on the red flag emergency that becomes a famine," Johnson warned.
More than 2,000 people have died and about 250,000 thousand others have been displaced in inter-tribal violence across southern Sudan since January, according to the United Nations.
"When natural resources are actually being diminished on a daily basis, you will see hard pressure coming in on already meagre resources," said Johnson, who also visited Upper Nile state, another area of concern.
"This will exacerbate conflict, there is absolutely no doubt – it is not only the food but the water and grazing that are reduced, and then of course tensions increase."
Southern Sudanese officials said they were worried for the future in a region often blighted by conflict or famine.
"There is famine because this year there has not been rain in many of the counties," said Kuol Manyang, the Jonglei governor. "Where there was peace, there was no rain, and where there were good rains, there was insecurity", he added.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) began last week to air-drop food for some 155,600 people in the south on November 5, to the three states of Jonglei, Upper Nile and Warrap.
The two-and-a-half-month airlift is dropping supplies to remote communities where roads are blocked by rains, and where conflict, high food prices and poor harvests because of drought have left people struggling for food.
It is a tense time for the region — still struggling to recover from a 22-year civil war that ended less than five years ago — with elections due in April followed by a referendum on the south’s potential full independence due in 2011.