ROME, ITALY — The recent violence in South Sudan is threatening to increase hunger and human suffering considerably, unravelling modest gains made in food security in the past two years, the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned.

Under the United Nations' Crisis Response Plan, FAO and its partners in the Food Security and Livelihoods Cluster are seeking $61 million for crucial food assistance and livelihoods activities.

FAO's efforts are focused on getting seeds, livestock vaccines, fishing gear and other agricultural inputs, technologies and services to vulnerable rural and urban families whose food production and income activities are being disrupted by conflict and the displacement of people. FAO is also engaging in mitigating the environmental impact of displacement.

The humanitarian situation in South Sudan has deteriorated rapidly since fighting broke out in mid-December, causing not only the loss of life and displacement, but also disrupting agricultural development and humanitarian activities crucial to the survival and future livelihoods of millions. The impacts on diversified livelihoods in four of South Sudan's ten states are generating an alarming risk of food insecurity and malnutrition.

"It is essential that security and stability return to South Sudan immediately so that displaced people can return to their homes, fields, herds and fishing grounds. Timing is everything; there are fish in the rivers now, pastoralists are trying to protect their herds and the planting season for maize, groundnut and sorghum starts in March," said Sue Lautze, FAO representative in South Sudan, the agency's newest member country.

"Even before the recent fighting, which has displaced more than 352 000 people, an estimated 4.4 million people were already expected to be facing food insecurity in South Sudan in 2014. Of those, 830 000 were estimated to be facing acute food insecurity," said Dominique Burgeon, director of FAO's Emergency and Rehabilitation Division.

FAO is working to support those affected by the crisis to quickly rebuild their livelihoods. With many of the displaced now residing along the banks of the Nile and Sobat rivers, fishing will be a key, immediate source of food and income. FAO's priorities include:

• Restoring the animal health system through rebuilding of the cold chain needed to store and transport vaccines, and reviving community-based animal health networks;
• Increasing access to seeds, especially vegetable seeds, and micro-irrigation equipment; support for fishing; and
• Promoting efficient use of fuels by IDPs.

In addition, as co-lead of the Food Security and Livelihood Cluster, FAO, together with the World Food Programme, continues supporting the coordination of partners within and beyond the United Nations.

An estimated 78% of South Sudan's rural population relies on various aspects of agriculture for their livelihoods, including cropping, livestock, forestry, fisheries and agriculture-related wage labour.

The conflict is affecting major supply routes, displacing traders and leading to rising food and fuel prices, along with the breakdown of local markets which are crucial to rural farmers, fishers and livestock-dependent populations.

"South Sudan was already facing challenges in terms of livestock diseases. In some areas, young animals have been dying at a rate of 40%-50%. FAO and its partners had recently made progress in partially controlling these diseases and reducing mortality through systematic vaccination, but we estimate that more than half of the country's capacity for vaccine storage and distribution has been lost and must urgently be restored," Lautze said.

While mobilizing its own resources to cover some of the most urgent needs, FAO is further strengthening its on-the-ground capacities in order to deliver most needed humanitarian assistance.