The top UN official in south Sudan warned on Friday that the impoverished region faced a major food crisis that could lead to "free fall," with half of its residents relying on aid this year.
"We have a very general problem of food insecurity across all of southern Sudan," Lisa Grande, the UN Deputy Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Juba, south Sudan, told AFP.
"We are looking at a situation where 4.3 million people require some forms of food assistance during the year," she said.
Failed harvests, people displaced for security reasons and rising food prices have all combined to create a "humanitarian perfect storm," Grande said.
She said places such as Akobo on the border with Ethiopia were among "the hungriest places on the face of the planet. And there are a lot of Akobos," she added, highlighting that seven out of the 10 southern states were "in trouble."
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has pre-positioned 60,000 tonnes of food all over the states which are in trouble before seasonal rains which could hamper deliveries in the region, Grande said.
The risk of famine could in turn lead to water-borne diseases and cholera epidemics.
"What we are avoiding is a free fall, when people are dying in mass. We are in a situation of struggle. We are at the break," Grande warned.
The fear of another failed harvest would create an "unimaginable situation," she said, hoping south Sudan's problems would not be overshadowed by troubles in Darfur, where a seven-year civil war has left around 30,000 people dead.
"This year, the attention has to be on the south. They are going through their moment of history," she said.
Former rebels the Southern People's Liberation Movement signed a peace deal with the Khartoum government in 2005 to end Africa's longest-running civil war which cost the lives of two million people and displaced twice as many.
The peace deal provided for the country's first multi-party elections, in which polling ended on Thursday, and for a 2011 referendum on independence in the south.