Nairobi: Over 2.5 million South Sudanese are on the brink of famine, with the civil war likely to intensify, the United Nations said Monday as it launched a $1.8 billion aid appeal.
UN emergency relief coordinator Valerie Amos said she had witnessed "first hand the continuing widespread devastation and destruction" and an "untenable level of suffering" after returning from a three-day visit to South Sudan.
"We need the fighting to stop and peace restored," she told an international donor conference in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, where $529 million (467 million euros) was pledged.
"The conflict has had a devastating impact on South Sudan but if peace doesn`t come quickly, it will also have a significant regional impact," she warned.
After seven failed ceasefires, the UN said in its appeal for cash the "most likely planning scenario" was that violence "intensifies" in the dry season when military vehicles can move around more easily.
The UN also said it expected that peace agreements "may not effectively or immediately end hostilities."
Top US official Anne C. Richard said that no conflict around the world today filled Washington with as "much frustration and despair" as this "man-made" crisis.
Richard, US Assistant Secretary of State for Refugees, said some areas were "teetering on the brink of famine", and that people "continue to suffer and die unnecessarily because their leaders are unwilling to do what it takes to restore peace."Washington, a key backer of South Sudan`s independence in 2011, pledged a further $273 million in aid, but was also deeply critical of the warring leaders.
"This aid can only be effective if South Sudan`s leaders end their intransigence and promote the well-being of the people, rather than their own rivalries and political machinations," she said.
Over half the country`s 12 million people need aid, according to the UN, which is also sheltering some 100,000 civilians trapped inside UN camps ringed with barbed wire, too terrified to venture out for fear of being killed.
The UN estimates that 2.5 million people are in a state of emergency or crisis, steps just short of famine.
Almost two million have been forced from their homes and 500,000 of them have fled abroad to neighbouring countries.
President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar have been set a March 5 deadline to strike a final peace agreement, but previous deadlines have been repeatedly ignored despite the threat of sanctions.
"South Sudan`s leaders need to show their people and the world they are committed to securing that peace," said Amos.
Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed said that "the violation of the cessation of hostilities agreement... will no longer be tolerated," and warned of the "real risk that the situation will continue to deteriorate before it gets better."In response, South Sudan`s Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin insisted the government was "committed to pursue peace", and that the next round of faltering peace talks would resume on February 19.
US actor Forest Whitaker, a UN peace envoy who joined Amos in visiting South Sudan, said he had met with communities that had "witnessed unspeakable atrocities".
"The needs are immense and human suffering is unbearably real," he said.
The UN is also asking for a further $810 million for the 500,000 South Sudanese refugees in neighbouring countries.
No overall death toll for the war has been kept by the government, rebels or the United Nations, but the International Crisis Group says it estimates that at least 50,000 people have been killed.