(11 Apr 2017) Two months after the world's youngest nation declared a famine, hunger has become more widespread than expected, aid workers say.
South Sudan's Northern Bahr el Ghazal region is on the brink of starvation, with 290,000 people at risk of dying.
Aid workers warn that conditions will only deteriorate as the lean season approaches.
In February, South Sudan and the United Nations declared a famine in two counties in Unity State.
Northern Bahr el Ghazal now faces the same fate.
Northern Bahr el Ghazal and its 1.4 million residents have remained relatively peaceful during South Sudan's three-year civil war.
But due to soaring inflation fueled by the conflict, harsh climate conditions and its remoteness, this region has become severely affected by hunger.
"I have gone three days without food. All my four children are hungry," said Abuk Garang. The young mother stared at her son's emaciated legs while he anxiously tugged at her breasts.
The boy, William Deng, was born in September, yet he looks more like a newborn.
Unable to draw any milk, the child chokes back tears and begins gnawing on his fist.
Garang tries to console him, but she knows he's famished.
When Garang heard that food was being distributed in a nearby town, she and thousands of others flocked there in desperation.
After hours of waiting, she beamed and pointed to her new bag of sorghum, then shielded her face, embarrassed by her excitement.
One by one, others staggered into aid group World Vision's food distribution compound.
World Vision last week rolled out the first phase of a program to provide 65,000 people in Aweil East county with food during the month of April. The aim is to start with 17,000 of the most severely malnourished and vulnerable people.
But aid workers said they weren't prepared for the level of despair.
"What shocked me the most today is to see the number of mothers who were trying to breast feed their children, and clearly they had no milk for their babies," said the aid group's South Sudan communications manager, Rose Ogola.
In the small town of Malualkuel alone, where the food was distributed, local leaders said 4,000 out of the town's 6,000 people are facing extreme starvation.
"These two years are the worst years that I have ever seen in my life," said James Maywien Aror, Aweil East county's relief and rehabilitation commissioner.
During a food and security review meeting last week in Aweil town, aid workers and government officials estimated an increase of 3 to 5 percent in the number of people who will face extreme hunger in the coming months.
With the onset of South Sudan's lean season in June and July, the fear is there won't be enough food to meet the growing demand.
Local community leaders said 200,000 metric tons of food is still needed for Northern Bahr el Ghazal.
"We last had food the day before yesterday," said 20-year-old Adel Bol.
Like so many others, she had heard there was food and quickly came running.
"I am worried that my child might die, but I am praying that if my child survives. I will not have any more kids, I will not give birth again," Bol said
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