Famine stalks millions in South Sudan after droughts, floods: U.N.

Famine stalks millions in South Sudan after droughts, floods: U.N.
By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – Famine threatens the lives of up to 5.5 million people in South Sudan, where droughts and flooding have destroyed crops and livestock, compounding “intense political instability”, the United Nations warned on Thursday.

The U.N.’s World Food Programme (WFP) said it needed $270 million urgently to provide food to hungry South Sudanese in the first half of 2020 and avert mass starvation in the world’s youngest country.

“Every factor is in place for there to be famine in 2020 unless we take immediate action to expand our deliveries in areas affected by floods and other areas affected by food loss,” Matthew Hollingworth, WFP country director, told Reuters.

“We need to pre-position food around the country in the next two to three months,” he said, noting that road access to many remote communities would be impossible after the rainy season sets in.

The government declared a state of emergency in late October in Bahr El Ghazal, Greater Upper Nile and Greater Equatoria after months of flooding, WFP said in a statement.

Nearly 1 million people are directly affected by the floods and the waters have not receded in many places, it said.

“The scale of the loss from the harvest is enormous,” Hollingworth said, speaking by telephone from Juba.

Fields with 73,000 tonnes of sorghum, millet and corn have been lost as well as tens of thousands of cattle, chickens and goats on which families depended for survival, he said.

Acute malnutrition rates in children under the age of five have risen from 13% in 2018 to 16% this year, Hollingworth said, adding: “They have gone above the global emergency threshold of 15%.”

Water-borne diseases are spreading, although no cholera has been detected, he said.

“It can only get worse because of the situation and environment people are living in,” he said.

Civil war broke out in oil-producing South Sudan in 2013, less than two years after the country gained independence from Sudan following decades of war. The conflict that has killed an estimated 400,000 people and forced millions from their homes.

Inter-communal fighting still occurs in pockets hit by the flooding, Hollingworth said.

“Hunger and desperation bring instability when resources are stretched to the extent that makes an already unstable situation much worse. It is a wake-up call for us all,” he said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Venezuela begins power rationing as drought causes severe outages

Lisney Albornoz (2nd R) and her family use a candle to illuminate the table while they dine, during a blackout in San Cristobal, Venezuela March 14, 2018. Picture taken March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

By Anggy Polanco and Isaac Urrutia

SAN CRISTOBAL, Venezuela (Reuters) – Venezuela imposed electricity rationing this week in six western states, as the crisis-hit country’s creaky power grid suffered from a drought that has reduced water levels in key reservoirs needed to run hydroelectric power generators.

The four-hour formal outages began on Thursday. But many residents scoffed at the announcement, wryly noting that they have been suffering far more extended blackouts during the last week.

“We have spent 14 hours without electricity today. And yesterday electricity came and went: for six hours we had no power,” said Ligthia Marrero, 50, in the western state of San Cristobal, noting that her fridge had been damaged by the frequent interruptions.

Crumbling infrastructure and lack of investments have hit Venezuela’s power supply for years. Now, the situation has been exacerbated by dwindling rains.

In the worst-hit western cities, business has all but ground to a halt at a time when the OPEC nation of 30 million is already suffering hyperinflation and a profound recession. Many Venezuelans are unable to eat properly on salaries of just a couple of dollars per month at the black market rate, sparking malnutrition, emigration and frequent sights of Venezuelans digging through trash or begging in front of supermarkets.

Maybelin Mendoza, a cashier at a bakery in Tachira state, said business has been further hit because points of sale stop working during blackouts – just as Venezuelans are chronically short of cash due to hyperinflation.

In the most dramatic cases, the opposition governor of Tachira state said three people, including a four-month-old, died this week because they failed to receive assistance during a power outage.

“Because of electrical failures, the machines weren’t able to revive the people and they died,” said Laidy Gomez.

Reuters was unable to confirm the report.

Authorities have acknowledged that interruptions will continue for at least two weeks, but they have not said whether they will spread to other states.

A worker tries to start the generator of the Padre Justo hospital during a blackout in Rubio, Venezuela March 14, 2018. Picture taken March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

A worker tries to start the generator of the Padre Justo hospital during a blackout in Rubio, Venezuela March 14, 2018. Picture taken March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

“Of a possible 1,100 megawatts, we are only generating 150 right now,” Energy Minister Luis Motta told reporters referring to the Fabricio Ojeda dam, in the western Andean state of Merida.

Capital city Caracas and other major cities have not been hit by rationing yet. Two years ago, rationing there lasted five months when a drought hit the Guri dam, the country’s largest hydroelectric dam.

But because of the economic crisis, Venezuela has reduced electricity consumption to about 14,000 megawatts at peak hours, according to engineer and former electricity executive Miguel Lara. Two years ago, state-run Corpoelec put the figure at 16,000 megawatts.

(Writing by Andreina Aponte and Girish Gupta; Editing by Corina Pons, Alexandra Ulmer and David Gregorio)