NAIROBI, 18 July (IRIN) - Several counties in the southwestern Sudanese region of Bahr el Ghazal are facing food shortages with thousands of people suffering from severe malnutrition, according to the UN World Food Programme and a famine early warning system.
"Almost 6,000 people were fed in therapeutic and supplementary feeding centres in four counties in Bahr el Ghazal in June," Laura Melo, spokesperson for the UN World Food Programme (WFP), said on Friday.
Pockets of severe malnutrition had been noted in Twic, Gogrial, Aweil and Raga counties, she added.
"We are talking about 6,000 people in four counties. This is a very high number and a situation of great concern," she said, noting that WFP had provided food assistance to 230,000 people in the whole of Bahr el Ghazal in June.
In a separate report, the USAID-funded Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS Net) said existing food deficits and a lack of sufficient food aid, on top of this year's dry season, had resulted in extreme food insecurity in the region.
"Some households ran out of food two months before the 'hunger season' [June to August] began, mainly due to last year's poor harvest, in combination with significant reductions in the availability of fish, wild foods and milk," noted the report released on Wednesday.
According to FEWS Net, growing numbers of people returning empty-handed after the peace accord between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) was signed on 9 January had exacerbated the situation.
Most of the 87,000 who had returned to Bahr el Ghazal since the peace accord was signed were now settled in the area around Aweil in the northern part of the state.
"The increasing food insecurity, particularly among poor households, became evident in March, when wild foods and fish were exhausted and sorghum became increasingly scarce in local markets," FEWS Net observed.
At the same time, food aid requirements from January through May were not adequately met as a result of funding shortfalls - less than 60 percent of the necessary food aid had been provided in northern Bahr el Ghazal (including Wau).
"The food security situation in Bahr el Ghazal is one of the most worrying in southern Sudan, but we have been putting food aside to tackle the situation," Melo said.
"Bahr el Ghazal's food needs are huge," she added. "The funds we have are not enough to tackle all the needs in southern Sudan."
So far, only 50 percent - or US $152 million - of the estimated $302 million needed for food aid in southern Sudan during 2005 had been received to date, the WFP spokesperson said.
In May, an assessment report said returnees and poor households in Bahr al Ghazal were having difficulty accessing sufficient food, and malnutrition levels had started climbing in southern Sudan.
The assessment, carried out jointly by UN agencies, NGOs and Sudanese authorities in both government-controlled and SPLM/A-controlled areas during March and April 2005, aimed to estimate the effects of increased returns to south Sudan, in the light of poor agricultural production in 2004.
Bahr el Ghazal suffered a severe famine in 1998. At the time, FEWS Net estimated that approximately 220,000 people were affected.
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