It is no exaggeration to say that the situation is close to catastrophic.

“We could be looking at a disaster – we are trying to prevent it by pulling out all the stops,” Challiss McDonough of the World Food Programme told me this morning.

The need is clear. Around a third of children across the whole of South Sudan are now acutely malnourished – twice the emergency threshold, says McDonough. The situation in Northern Bahr el-Ghazal and Unity states are particularly severe.

Other agencies have given similar warnings.

“Millions of people facing hunger in South Sudan will be driven to the brink of catastrophe if renewed flashes of violence derail the fragile peace process,” was the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation’s conclusion on 17th July 2016. And the violence shows little sign of abating.

These are some facts and statistics the UNHCR’s Teresa Ongaro gave the BBC this morning:

  • 60,000 have fled the country since the conflict erupted again in July 2016
  • 900,000 now outside South Sudan
  • double that number internally displaced
  • half the population dependent on food aid
  • armed groups preventing people fleeing to Uganda
  • militia forcibly recruiting children.

Emergency airdrops – the last resort

The World Food Programme (WFP) has taken the step of last resort – using hugely expensive air drops to reach the most endangered populations.

Airdrop Aweil WFP 1

This airdrop was at Aweil, in Northern Bahr el Ghazal.

Challiss McDonough of the WFP says food is now being dropped to 7 locations in the area.

There is no other way of reaching these areas, since the rains have closed the roads. Banditry and armed groups have also hindered food distribution. And now cholera has broken out in several locations.

“The situation is truly desperate” says McDonough. “This is the first time we have had to use air drops to Aweil since the independence of South Sudan.”

Air drop Aweil WFP 3