South Sudan: UN pushes for food aid after peace deal

Displaced woman cooking in refugee camp Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Thousands of displaced South Sudanese are at risk of hunger, officials warn.

Both signatories to a peace deal in South Sudan have been urged to permit shipments of food aid to reach a population in danger of mass hunger.

Toby Lanzer, the UN's top aid official in the region, said roads and rivers must be opened for emergency relief.

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar agreed a pact on Friday, after a five-month conflict that has displaced 1.5 million people.

Their truce, the second attempt of its kind, comes into force on Saturday.

The previous deal, struck in January, collapsed within days, with both sides accusing each other of restarting the fighting.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Rebel and government forces have been fighting since December in the world's newest state

As well as an immediate end to hostilities, the latest agreement envisages the creation of a transitional government ahead of the drafting of a new constitution and fresh elections.

The rivals signed the deal in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, late on Friday, after their first face-to-face meeting since the hostilities began in December.

With many details of the deal yet to be worked out, officials caution that a lasting peace may still be some way off.

South Sudan is the world's newest state, as well as one of its poorest.

The UN estimates that some five million of its citizens are in need of urgent humanitarian aid.

In a message on his twitter feed, Mr Lanzer welcomed the new agreement and called on both sides to permit the movement of truck convoys and river barges carrying emergency relief.

Asked what was the likelihood of this happening, he told the Associated Press news agency that the result so far was better than many would have expected.

Aid officials have warned of mass hunger if the displaced are not allowed to return to their homes and plant crops in time for the arrival of seasonal rains in June.

A statement from the UN's food agency, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), says one-third of South Sudan's population is facing "emergency levels of food insecurity", with some areas of the country also at risk of famine.

Ethnic overtones

Mr Kiir and Mr Machar are expected to issue immediate orders for troops to end combat and to allow in humanitarian aid.

It was not immediately clear who would form the transitional administration mentioned in the deal.

African Union official Smail Chergui warned that "given the current crisis, the restoration of peace in South Sudan will not be easy".

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Media captionThe BBC outlines the background to South Sudan's crisis - in 60 seconds.

The UN has accused both the South Sudanese government and the rebels of crimes against humanity, including mass killings and gang-rape.

The violence began when President Kiir accused his sacked deputy Mr Machar of plotting a coup.

Mr Machar denied the allegation, but then marshalled a rebel army to fight the government.

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

The UN has about 8,500 peacekeepers in South Sudan. However, they have struggled to contain the conflict.

South Sudan gained independence in 2011, breaking away from Sudan after decades of conflict between rebels and the Khartoum government.

Image caption Fighting erupted in the South Sudan capital, Juba, in mid-December. It followed a political power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his ex-deputy Riek Machar. The squabble has taken on an ethnic dimension as politicians' political bases are often ethnic.
Image caption Sudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.
Image caption Both Sudan and the South are reliant on oil revenue, which accounts for 98% of South Sudan's budget. They have fiercely disagreed over how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state - at one time production was shutdown for more than a year. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north.
Image caption The two Sudans are very different geographically. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.
Image caption After gaining independence in 2011, South Sudan is the world's newest country - and one of its poorest. Figures from 2010 show some 69% of households now have access to clean water - up from 48% in 2006. However, just 2% of households have water on the premises.
Image caption Just 29% of children attend primary school in South Sudan - however, this is also an improvement on the 16% recorded in 2006. About 32% of primary-age boys attend, while just 25% of girls do. Overall, 64% of children who begin primary school reach the last grade.
Image caption Almost 28% of children under the age of five in South Sudan are moderately or severely underweight. This compares with the 33% recorded in 2006. Unity state has the highest proportion of children suffering malnourishment (46%), while Central Equatoria has the lowest (17%).

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