According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification IPC update released today by the government, the three agencies and other humanitarian partners, 4.9 million people more than 40 percent of South Sudans population are in need of urgent food, agriculture and nutrition assistance.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) also warned that urgent action is needed to prevent more people from dying of hunger.
According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) update released today by the government, the three agencies and other humanitarian partners, 4.9 million people - more than 40 percent of South Sudan's population - are in need of urgent food, agriculture and nutrition assistance.
They added that the total number of food insecure people is expected to rise to 5.5 million at the height of the lean season in July if nothing is done to curb the severity and spread of the food crisis.
The three agencies say that unimpeded humanitarian access to everyone facing famine, or at risk of famine, is urgently needed to reverse the escalating catastrophe. A formal famine declaration means people have already started dying of hunger.
"Famine has become a tragic reality in parts of South Sudan and our worst fears have been realized. Many families have exhausted every means they have to survive," said FAO Representative in South Sudan Serge Tissot.
Famine is currently affecting parts of Unity State in the northern-central part of the country. The situation is the worst hunger catastrophe since fighting erupted more than three years ago. Across the country, the conflict has severely undermined crop production and rural livelihoods.
The upsurge in violence since July 2016 has further devastated food production, including in previously stable areas. A soaring inflation of up to 800 percent year-on-year and market failure has also hit areas that traditionally rely on markets to meet food needs. Urban populations are also struggling to cope with massive price rises on basic food items.
"This famine is man-made. WFP and the entire humanitarian community have been trying with all our might to avoid this catastrophe, mounting a humanitarian response of a scale that quite frankly would have seemed impossible three years ago," said WFP Country Director Joyce Luma.
The declaration came moments after World Food Programme (WFP) announced critical shortages in food assistance affecting some 2 million refugees in 10 countries across Africa.
The agencies warned that food shortages will have dire consequences on the health and protection of such vulnerable people, unless more support is urgently made available. The number of refugees in Africa nearly doubled from 2.6 million in 2011 to nearly 5 million in 2016.
Most of these are individuals fleeing Somalia and South Sudan and arriving as refugees in critical condition. However, while they run from famine and conflict in their countries, they may not have enough to eat while in refugee camps.
Food rations have been dramatically cut - in some cases by up to 50 percent - in large operations including South Sudan, Uganda, Chad and Kenya. Refugees in Djibouti, Burundi and Ethiopia have had specific commodities cut including micro-nutrient fortified blended foods, needed to ensure an adequate quality diet.