South Sudan President Salva Kiir warns of 'famine'

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Media captionPresident Salva Kiir said the growing hunger crisis was "man-made"

South Sudan's president has warned his country faces "one of worst famines ever" unless the current conflict is ended, in an interview with the BBC.

Salva Kiir also accused his sacked deputy, Riek Machar, of stoking ethnic tension and violating a ceasefire.

Last week, Mr Kiir postponed presidential elections due next year to give government and rebel forces more time to achieve reconciliation.

Some one million people have fled their homes since fighting broke out.

The unrest erupted last December after the president alleged that Mr Machar was plotting a coup - allegations the ex-deputy denies.

The United Nations has accused both sides of crimes against humanity, including mass killings and gang-rape, and threatened sanctions against those responsible for the violence.

'Man-made disaster'

President Kiir told the BBC's Hardtalk programme the rebels were to blame for the growing hunger crisis.

"This is not our making," he said.

"It is a man-made disaster and that is why we want the war to stop, [to] allow humanitarian access to the country. If Riek Machar was to understand that the civilian population is going to face one of the worst famines there has ever been, this is the time."

Former UN humanitarian official Jan Egeland, now head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, on Monday also warned that some 7.3 million people could go hungry by August.

According to the internationally accepted IPC classification, at least the first three of these conditions must occur:

  • at least 20% of the total population in a given area are on the brink of starvation due to lack of food
  • acute malnutrition rates are greater than 30% of the population
  • Two deaths per 10,000 people per day
  • A pandemic illness
  • Access to less than four litres of water a day
  • Large-scale displacement
  • Civil strife
  • Complete loss of assets and source of income

"I think $1.2bn (£713m) is needed of additional money to avoid us entering into a situation of famine, famine like we saw it a couple of decades ago," he said at the start of an international aid conference in Norway to raise funds for South Sudan.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The conflict pits fighters from the president's Dinka ethnic group against Riek Machar's Nuer community

He said the continuing violence meant time was running out for the most vulnerable.

In addition to a looming famine, South Sudan is facing a cholera outbreak, according to international aid agency Oxfam.

Mr Kiir and Mr Machar signed a peace deal in Ethiopia on 9 May, but accused each other of breaking the ceasefire shortly after it was meant to come into effect.

"[Mr Machar] violated it, attacking our forces," the president told the BBC, adding: "He did not give order to stop fighting after signing. My forces are observing the ceasefire strictly."

Humanitarian needs

  • Some 7.3 million people are at risk of hunger
  • At least four million face alarming food insecurity, particularly in Unity and Jonglei
  • An estimated 223,000 children face severe acute malnutrition
  • Around a million are internally displaced, half of them children
  • More than 83,000 of the internally displaced are at eight UN bases
  • Close to 350,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries
  • The number of refugees abroad could rise to 863,000 by December

Source: UN South Sudan Crisis Response Plan, May 2014

Mr Kiir also denied delaying the elections in order to stay in power, claiming that US Secretary of State John Kerry had asked him to postpone the vote.

Thousands of civilians have been killed so far in the conflict.

The unrest has assumed ethnic overtones, with Mr Machar relying heavily on fighters from his Nuer ethnic group and Mr Kiir from his Dinka community.

The UN says hundreds of non-Nuers were killed in Bentiu last month when rebel forces captured the town.

South Sudan is the world's newest state, becoming independent in 2011 after seceding from Sudan.

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