JUBA, 9th February, 2016 (WAM) — South Sudan is facing unprecedented levels of food insecurity, as 2.8 million people, or nearly 25 percent of the country’s population, remain in urgent need of food assistance, and at least 40,000 people are on the brink of catastrophe, three UN agencies warned today.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, FAO, the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, and the World Food Programme, WFP, stressed that these numbers are particularly worrisome because they show an increase in hunger during the post-harvest period, a time when the country is traditionally most food secure.

The number of food insecure people is expected to peak during the coming lean season, traditionally worst between April and July, when food availability is lowest. Humanitarian partners have released an update to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, IPC, analysis, which projects that the lean season will start early this year, and the hunger period will be longer than in previous years.

The three UN agencies noted that the dry season, which is now beginning, could bring additional hardship to people facing the most severe levels of hunger. People displaced in conflict-affected Unity State, who have been living on fish and water lilies to survive, are running out of their only remaining sources of food as the floods recede. Livestock raiding has robbed many people of essential animal products like milk, which were their main means of survival during last year’s lean season. Unless humanitarian assistance can reliably reach them during the dry season, they face catastrophe in the coming months.

For this reason, the UN agencies are calling for a speedy implementation of the peace agreement signed last year, and for unrestricted access to conflict areas to deliver much needed supplies to the most affected areas.