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Thursday, June 11, 1998 Published at 23:03 GMT 00:03 UK

World: Africa

UN declares famine in Sudan

Boiled leaves become a makeshift meal

The United Nations has officially declared the situation in Sudan to be one of famine.

The latest UN estimate says up to 1.2 million people now face starvation in the south of the country - many more than previously thought.

BBC Correspondent Martin Dawes in Sudan: a nightmare so awesome that even makes aid staff cry
The dramatic increase has prompted the World Food Programme to call for an unprecedented relief operation to target those most at risk in several areas it describes as "famine zones".

It is the first time that the word "famine" has been used to officially describe the crisis in southern Sudan.

[ image: Aid camps are increasingly unable to cope]
Aid camps are increasingly unable to cope
The BBC's East Africa Correspondent Martin Dawes says that aid workers on the ground have been saying for weeks that the situation was out of control and that many more people than expected were needing food.

The news came as Sudanese authorities met in the southern state of Bahr al-Ghazal to discuss the famine, according to the Suna news agency.

The Sudanese First Vice-President, Ali Uthman Muhammad Taha, was briefed on measures to tackle the food shortage.

Skeletal children

The first warnings that many parts of rebel and government-held southern Sudan were likely to face extreme food shortages came in November last year.

Aid efforts are struggling to reach many areas, despite the use of extra planes. The air relief operation follows a month-long government ban on all aid flights in March that critically upset the nine-year-old UN relief effort known as Operation Lifeline Sudan.

[ image: Raking the ground for food is a  lonely process]
Raking the ground for food is a lonely process
Child feeding centres, run by the medical group, Médecins Sans Frontières, are full of skeletal children, says our correspondent. Adults are little better off.

David Fletcher, who works for the World Food Programme, says from next month they hope to increase food deliveries to 9,600 metric tonnes. Most of this would have to be delivered by air.

Mr Fletcher has also said that the WFP's Sudan operation is now suffering from a shortfall in donor funding of $117m.

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