* Conflict rumbled on for more than eight months
* Acute malnutrition already afflicting some areas
* Rains provide some sustenance, hinder transport
By Carl Odera
JUBA, Aug 28 (Reuters) - Security concerns are preventing the United Nations gathering data from some areas of South Sudan to determine the full scope of a food crisis that could lead to full-blown famine by the end of the year, a World Food Programme (WFP) official said.
A civil conflict that has rumbled on for more than eight months has already caused acute malnutrition in some regions and some of the formal criteria used to declare a famine zone have been reached, WFP Country Director Joyce Luma told Reuters.
“The worst affected areas are the conflict areas. People have been displaced. They haven’t been able to plant to the extent they would have been,” she said in an interview, adding the approaching harvest time could also be hindered by fighting.
For now, she said the rainy season was adding to the challenge of reaching conflict areas because aid convoys had to contend with both security worries and often impassable tracks in a nation the size of France with almost no tarmac roads.
Even air drops, which cost about seven or eight times the amount needed for river barge or truck deliveries, were hindered by rainy weather conditions in the country of 11 million people that became independent in 2011 from Sudan.
The WFP has been gathering data to determine the worst affected areas and needs, but was not able to reach all regions. Out of 47 intended sites in the three conflict-affected states, the WFP had only reached 41, Luma said.
The worst of the fighting, which has pitted soldiers backing President Salva Kiir against the rebel forces of Riek Machar, has been in the oil-producing states of Unity and Upper Nile, as well as Jonglei state, home to the flashpoint town of Bor.
She said the most difficult regions to reach were often rebel-held territory, partly because getting security clearance for staff or workers to go there was more difficult.
At least 10,000 people have been killed in the conflict with more than 1 million people driven from their homes, preventing them from tending their small, subsistence farms, which dominate agriculture in one of the world’s poorest nations.
Some places were already moving closer to being declared as suffering famine, which is formally defined when acute malnutrition exceeds 30 percent of the population and the deaths exceed two people per 10,000 each day, among other criteria.
She said that many households could run out of food supplies by the dry season, around December and January. For now, the rains meant people could scrape together extra food from greenery and fish because of plentiful water supplies.
Her comments echoed remarks to reporters on Thursday by Toby Lanzer, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in South Sudan.
“If there was going to be a famine, it was most likely to strike at the very end of this year or more likely at the outset of 2015,” he said.
Less than 50 percent of the funds needed to meet food needs were covered, he said, without providing figures. (Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)