JUBA: The United Nations said on Thursday that a drop in South Sudan's food production could leave 1.2 million people facing severe shortages in 2012, amid internal and border insecurity, erratic rains and returns from the north.
A Rapid Crop Assessment carried out last month points to an increased deficit food production of 400,000 metric tonnes this year, up from 100,000 metric tonnes last year, the UN's Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) said.
“We are estimating those that we think will be severely food insecure will be 1.2 million next year,” compared to 970,000 last year, FAO food security specialist Elijah Mukhala said.
South Sudan, which gained independence from the north in July after decades of civil war, needs to produce one million metric tonnes of food each year, but with displacement and violence, this year's best-case scenario is around half that, Mukhala said.
“We made gains in 2010. Right now, all these gains are being reversed, and the two main issues are insecurity and rainfall,” causing shortages and price rises, FAO food security coordinator Mtendere Mphatso said.
Lise Grande, who coordinates UN humanitarian efforts in the south, said a third of around nine million people there were classed as moderately or severely food insecure this year.
“Although we're not in a drought like the Horn of Africa, it's bad and it's getting worse. So you've got the world's newest country facing a major food security problem... It's linked to erratic rains, border closures, of course the insecurity, plus the returns,” she said.
Grande said over 300,000 people had come south since January, with the same number again internally displaced due to inter-communal violence from a spate of violence covering border tensions, cattle-raiding, rebel militia groups and civilian disarmament.
“We have the largest peacetime movement since World War Two,” with 500 people entering each day, with internal violence and rains and a lack of employment opportunities putting a further strain on the fledgling nation, she said.
While the UN was ready to cater for 110,000 people fleeing south when Sudanese military forces occupied the contested border region of Abyei in May, Grande said food was now running out, with demobilised South Sudanese forces marching south, creating further resource problems.
Around 40,000 displaced people remain in the southern border town of Agok, recently hit by flash flooding, and are set to face another month of half-rations as trucks carrying 170 tonnes of government donated food are stuck.
Over 8,000 more refugees have poured into the new nation from the violence in neighbouring Southern Kordofan, while 7,500 more have fled attacks from Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in the south-west.
Grande said UN humanitarian operations were being hampered by looting and violence towards staff by rebel militia groups and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), as well as the laying of new mines.
Two UN staff was killed in an attack in May after SPLA troops commandeered six vehicles.