South Sudan's Kiir promises safe access to starving civilians as famine bites

Women hold their babies as they wait for a medical check-up at a United Nations International Children's Fund (UNICEF) supported mobile health clinic in Nimini village, Unity State, South Sudan February 8, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola

US-SOUTHSUDAN-FAMINE:South Sudan's Kiir promises safe access to starving civilians as famine bites

By Denis Dumo

JUBA (Reuters) - South Sudan's President Salva Kiir on Tuesday promised aid agencies safe access to hunger-stricken civilians, a day after his government declared a famine in parts of the war-ravaged country.

South Sudan has been mired in civil war since 2013 and the United Nations said on Monday it was unable to reach some of the worst hit areas because of the insecurity.

"The government will ensure that all the humanitarian and developmental organizations have unimpeded access to the needy population across the country," Kiir said in a speech to parliament.

Nearly half of South Sudan's 11 million people will lack reliable access to affordable food by July, the government predicts, because of the fighting, drought and hyperinflation.

South Sudan has been hit by the same east African drought that has pushed Somalia back to the brink of famine, six years after 260,000 people starved to death in 2011.

The U.N. children's agency UNICEF on Tuesday said nearly 1.4 million children were at "imminent" risk of death in famines in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria.

South Sudan is rich in oil resources. But, six years after independence from neighboring Sudan, there are only 200 km (120 miles) of paved roads in a nation the size of Texas. In the fighting, food warehouses have been looted and aid workers killed.

The conflict has increasingly split the country along ethnic lines, leading the United Nations to warn of a potential genocide.

The medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said it had set up an emergency intervention in northern Mayendit county to help malnourished children. One in four children in Mayendit had acute malnutrition, MSF said.

"Providing healthcare is a major challenge in such a dangerous context: people are constantly moving to seek safety," MSF said on Twitter.

(Writing by Duncan Miriri; editing by Richard Lough)

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