The announcement comes as international aid agencies are overwhelmed by catastrophes unfolding in four countries.
There have been warnings of famine in Yemen, Somalia and north-eastern Nigeria, but South Sudan is the first to declare one.
The famine is currently affecting parts of the Unity state in South Sudan, but humanitarian groups have warned that the crisis could spread if urgent help is not received.
Currently, some 20 U.S.-based charities are working in South Sudan, bringing medical equipment and supplies, the most needed type of food, clothing, shelter materials and other supplies. The groups are listed in CharityWatch, a charity watchdog which issues letter grade ratings (A+ to F) to nonprofit groups aiding victims. Groups that receive an “A” or “B” grade spend at least 75% of their budget on program services and spend no more than $25 to raise $100.
Under the heading “Donors Beware,” CharityWatch writes: “As with any charitable contribution, Americans wanting to help South Sudan relief efforts should send contributions to only those charities with an established track record of helping people in this region.”
ReliefWeb.int, a digital service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which tracks countries in crisis and provides the latest reports, maps, infographics and videos, wrote in a report in December: “Alarmingly, 4.8 million people in South Sudan – more than one-third of the population – are food insecure.”
Serge Tissot, the Food and Agriculture Organization’s representative for South Sudan described those affected as “predominantly farmers as war has disrupted agriculture. They’ve lost their livestock, even their farming tools. For months there has been a total reliance on whatever plants they can find and fish they can catch.”
Food prices have soared by 800 percent, putting food out of the reach of impoverished families. Thousands of refugees have sought shelter in camps in Uganda.
“This famine is man-made,” said Joyce Luma, country director for the World Food Program in South Sudan, which has seen its facilities looted on several occasions by armed groups. “WFP and the entire humanitarian community have been trying with all our might to avoid this catastrophe, mounting a humanitarian response of a scale that quite frankly would have seemed impossible three years ago.”
But she warned that without peace and security, “there is only so much that humanitarian assistance can achieve.”
Meanwhile, workers at Save the Children-supported health clinics and hospitals in Puntland have reported a significant increase in severe malnutrition among children coming through their doors.
An estimated 363,000 children are already suffering from malnutrition in Somalia.
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