The number of people in southern Sudan in need of food assistance has more than quadrupled from almost one million in 2009 to 4.3 million this year because of conflict and drought, the U.N. food agency said on Tuesday.

WFP said in a statement issued in Nairobi that the agency was pre-positioning 50,000 metric tons of sorghum, pulses and vegetable oil to feed the millions who may be cut off when the rains start. “This spike in the number of hungry people in southern Sudan comes just ahead of the rainy season when roads become blocked and communities are cut off from food assistance,” WFP Sudan Coordinator in the south Leo van der Velden said.

WFP plans to assist the hungry for between two and eight months in 2010, depending on how heavy the rainy season is, and the extent of food around in local markets. The aim is to ensure that families have access to sufficient food before the next harvest is due in October and November. WFP will also support school meal programmes for more than 400, 000 schoolchildren and provide food for tens of thousands of conflict-affected families, returnees and refugees. The southern Sudan Agriculture Minister, Samson Kwaje, said Jonglei State has the highest number in need of food assistance. “Internal conflict and incursions from the Lord’s Resistance Army together with drought have made almost half the population of the South short of food,” he said.

The annual food needs and livelihood assessment was made by a team of 145 trained data collectors who fanned out across southern Sudan, collecting information from more than 2,000 households about what people eat, where they get their food from, and how they cope. The assessment covered Eastern Equatoria, Jonglei, Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Lakes, Upper Nile, Western Bahr el Ghazal and Warrap — seven of the 10 states in southern Sudan.

Conflict in 2009 killed 2,500 people and displaced 350,000 people from their homes in southern Sudan while drought slashed harvests so WFP started shifting from recovery and rebuilding to a more emergency-focused response from June 2009. WFP has a current total shortfall of $485.4 m to provide food assistance in 2010 to some 11 million people in need of food assistance across all of Sudan.

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