Over 2.5 million people on edge of famine in South Sudan
NAIROBI - Over 2.5 million South Sudanese are on the edge of famine and civil war is expected to continue, the United Nations warned Monday, making an appeal for $1.8 billion in aid.
UN emergency relief coordinator Valerie Amos said she witnessed "first hand the continuing widespread devastation and destruction" and an "untenable level of suffering" after returning from a three-day visit to South Sudan.
"We need the fighting to stop and peace restored," she told an international donor conference in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.
"The conflict has had a devastating impact on South Sudan but if peace doesn't come quickly, it will also have a significant regional impact," she warned.
After seven failed ceasefires, the UN said in its appeal for cash the "most likely planning scenario" was that violence "intensifies" in the dry season when military vehicles can more easily move.
The UN also said it expected that peace "agreements may not effectively or immediately end hostilities."
Over half the country's 12 million people need aid, according to the United Nations, which is also guarding some 100,000 civilians trapped inside UN camps ringed with barbed wire, too terrified to venture out for fear of being killed.
Of those, the UN estimates 2.5 million people are in a state of emergency or crisis, steps just short of famine.
"The violation of the cessation of hostilities agreement... will no longer be tolerated," Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed said, warning of the "real risk that the situation will continue to deteriorate before it gets better."
Almost two million have been forced from their homes and 500,000 of them have fled abroad to neighbouring countries.
President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar have been set a March 5 deadline to strike a final peace agreement, but previous deadlines have been repeatedly ignored despite the threat of sanctions.
"South Sudan's leaders need to show their people and the world they are committed to securing that peace," said Amos.
In response, South Sudan's Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin insisted the government was "committed to pursue peace", and that the next round of faltering peace talks would resume on February 19.
US actor Forest Whitaker, a UN peace envoy who joined Amos in visiting South Sudan, said he had met with communities that had "witnessed unspeakable atrocities".
"The needs are immense and human suffering is unbearably real," he said.