THREE UN agencies on Monday warned that at least 7 million people in South Sudan were at risk of starving in the coming months unless food assistance and access are maintained.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Program (WFP) also said the progress made to prevent people from dying of hunger could be undone.
"If this happens, this will be the highest ever number of food insecure people in South Sudan. The period of greatest risk will be the lean season, between May and July," the UN agencies warned in a joint statement issued in Juba.
According to an Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report released on Monday said in January this year some 5.3 million people were already struggling to find enough food each day and were in "crisis" or "emergency" levels of food insecurity.
This represents a 40 per cent increase in the number of severely food insecure people compared to January 2017.
According to the agencies, some 155,000 people, including 29,000 children, who could suffer from the most extreme levels of hunger, are, particularly at risk.
Serge Tissot, FAO Representative in South Sudan, warned that the food security situation is extremely fragile, adding that another famine is imminent.
"The projections are stark, if we ignore them, we will be faced with a growing tragedy. If farmers receive support to resume their livelihoods, we will see a rapid improvement in the country's food security situation due to increased local production," Tissot said.
The report comes one year after famine was declared in parts of South Sudan in February 2017 but improved access and a massive humanitarian response succeeded in containing and averting famine later last year.
Despite this, the UN agencies said food insecurity outlook has never been so dire as it is now.
"The situation is deteriorating with each year of conflict as more people lose the little they had. We are alarmed at the lean season when the harvest runs out is expected to start this year much earlier than usual," said Adnan Khan, WFP Representative and Country Director.
"Unless we pre-position assistance rather than mount a more costly response during the rains, more families will struggle to survive," Khan warned.
The report says overall hunger levels have risen due to the protracted conflict that led to reduced food production and constantly disrupted livelihoods.
This, the report says, was further exacerbated by economic collapse, which impacted markets and trade, making them unable to compensate for the decrease in local food production.
"Prolonged dry spells, flooding and continued pest infestation, such as Fall Armyworm, have also had a damaging impact," it says.
In areas like Unity, Jonglei, Upper Nile, and Central Equatoria, riddled by reoccurring outbreaks of violent conflict and displacement, the proportion of people suffering from extreme food insecurity ranges from 52 to 62 percent -- more than half the states' combined population.
The number is expected to keep increasing unless people find the means to receive, produce or buy their own food.
The report says conflict and worsening hunger have led to already soaring rates of malnutrition.
Without assistance, as of May, more than 1.3 million children under five will be at risk of acute malnutrition.
Mahimbo Mdoe, UNICEF's Representative in South Sudan said they are preparing for rates of severe malnutrition among children never before seen in this country.
"Without an urgent response and access to those most in need, many children will die. We cannot allow that to happen," Mdoe added.