Oxfam Australia have called for urgent action to prevent famine in South Sudan following an early warning report showing that some people in the country's east were already experiencing extreme levels of hunger.

The report from the Famine Early Warning Network (FEWSNET) showed that one in five households in the eastern town of Pibor could already be classed as hitting famine levels of hunger. 

Oxfam, which has already deployed emergency response teams to support nutrition centres in Pibor, says not only has the community faced, like the rest of the country, four years of conflict which has weakened resilience, it's also seen food availability plummet thanks to pests and flooding destroyed harvests. Cattle raids between communities in Boma, where Pibor is located, and neighbouring states, were also a concern.

While a hunger crisis in South Sudan in 2017 was mitigated by a massive aid effort, Nicolo Di Marzo, Oxfam's acting country director, said that after a poor harvest last year and with this year’s harvest not due at least until July, South Sudan was again facing catastrophe

“Waiting for a formal declaration of famine is not good enough,” Mr Di Marzo said. “People are already starving and desperate. A woman in Pibor said that her family had resorted to cooking grasses and weeds that are making them sick – but that they have no choice if they want to survive.”.

He said that while efforts have so far kept famine at bay, "the need is growing at such an alarming rate that Oxfam and other aid organisations are struggling to keep up".

"We are seeing similarly worrying trends across the country. This is not an isolated problem. Urgent action is needed now to save lives in Pibor and across South Sudan.” 

Noting the failure of the most recent peace talks in South Sudan, Mr Di Marzo said that without peace, "hunger will continue to haunt South Sudan".

"As well as urgently stepping up humanitarian support, the regional and wider international community must throw their weight into reinvigorating and redoubling diplomatic action to bring peace to South Sudan.”