UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, Valerie Amos. Picture: Noel Celis

New York -

The UN humanitarian chief warned on Wednesday that a state of famine could be declared “very soon” in South Sudan amid worsening humanitarian conditions due to the ongoing ethnic conflict in the world's newest state.

“My greatest fear is that we will see a very quick deterioration of the food security situation with a potential for a famine being declared very soon,” Valerie Amos told reporters after briefing the UN Security Council.

Thousands of South Sudanese have been killed since the conflict broke out in December between loyalists of President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, and his rival, former vice-president Riek Machar, an ethnic Nuer.

The ongoing conflict has sent 400 000 people fleeing to neighbouring countries, while 1.1 million people have been internally displaced. The UN has requested $1.8 billion to assist the South Sudanese people, but Amos said that only $809 million, or 45 percent of the response plan, has so far been met.

“I warn the council that if we don't take urgent actions now, we will see a major humanitarian crisis unfolding in South Sudan,” she said.

“We need the violence to stop, and we need the council and everyone with any kind of political influence to use that influence on the parties.”

Currently the UN peacekeeping mission is providing protection to 100 000 South Sudanese civilians, who have fled the war and taken refuge in UN bases across the country. - Sapa-dpa