More than 70 percent of South Sudan's population will face extreme hunger this year as conflict and climate-related disasters deepen food scarcity, the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) warned Friday.
Since gaining independence from Sudan in 2011, the world's newest nation has been in the throes of economic and political crisis, and is struggling to recover from a five-year civil war that left nearly 400,000 people dead.
On Friday, the WFP warned of a fresh hunger crisis threatening millions of South Sudanese already battered by floods and a resurgence of conflict.
"While global attention remains fixated on Ukraine, a hidden hunger emergency is engulfing South Sudan with about 8.3 million people in South Sudan -– including refugees -– (facing) extreme hunger in the coming months," the WFP said in a statement.
As climate disasters and violence force tens of thousands of people to flee their homes and abandon their livelihoods, many South Sudanese have already been pushed to the brink and "could starve without food assistance", the agency said.
"The extent and depth of this crisis is unsettling. We’re seeing people across the country have exhausted all their available options to make ends meet and now they are left with nothing," said Adeyinka Badejo, the WFP's deputy country director in South Sudan.
The alarming news comes weeks after the United Nations warned that the country risks a return to war, with hundreds of civilians killed during outbreaks of interethnic violence.
Although a 2018 ceasefire and power-sharing deal between President Salva Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar still largely holds, it is being sorely tested, with little progress made in fulfilling the terms of the lumbering peace process.
Four out of five of South Sudan's 11 million people live in "absolute poverty", according to the World Bank in 2018.
More than 60 percent of its population suffers from severe hunger from the combined effects of conflict, drought and floods.