EU aid chief says race against rain to stop famine in South Sudan

UNITED NATIONS, April 15 Tue Apr 15, 2014 1:06pm EDT

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UNITED NATIONS, April 15 (Reuters) - Humanitarian aid groups are in a "race against the rain to prevent famine" in impoverished South Sudan where violence has displaced more than one million people in the past four months, European Union aid chief Kristalina Georgieva said.

The conflict in the world's youngest country erupted in December between troops backing President Salva Kiir and soldiers loyal to his sacked vice president, Riek Machar. Thousands of people have been killed.

Aside from contending with the violence, humanitarian groups are also battling to stock up on aid around the country as the six-month rainy season looms.

Georgieva said in an interview with Reuters on Monday that the United Nations urgently needed $232 million. This would also help the South Sudanese plant their crops in March, April and May to ensure there is a harvest this year.

"We need to come up with money now because if we don't pre-position food now, now, before the rainy season, we may hit a famine. So if in six months if we haven't done anything, people are dying from hunger, we cannot say we didn't see this coming," said Georgieva, who co-chaired a ministerial meeting on the South Sudan humanitarian crisis in Washington on Saturday.

"This is a race against rain to prevent famine," she said.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, known as UNMISS, has been sheltering at its bases tens of thousands of civilians seeking refuge. In January, countries pledged $1.27 billion in emergency relief, though the United Nations says only a third has been received to date.

On Jan. 23, the warring parties agreed to a cessation of hostilities but fighting has continued in parts of South Sudan, which seceded from Sudan in 2011 under an agreement to end decades of war.

The current conflict has also disrupted oil production, which provides a hefty portion of the government's revenue. South Sudanese rebels said on Tuesday they have seized the capital of oil-producing Unity state, Bentiu, and warned oil firms to pack up and leave within a week. (Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Grant McCool)

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