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UN claims more than 30,000 people in South Sudan 'starving to death'

Three UN agencies have warned that thousands of people are starving in the war-torn country of South Sudan. Experts say relief agencies must have more access to the most famine-prone areas of the country.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) issued

a joint statement

on Thursday calling for more access to the most affected regions of South Sudan, insisting the country is on the brink of famine.

"At least 30,000 people are living in extreme conditions and are facing starvation and death," the statement read.

The agencies said parts of the population were in phase five ("catastrophe") of the five-point Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) scale, which classifies food insecurity.

Especially hard-hit was Unity State in the northern part of South Sudan, where much of the fighting has taken place. According to the agencies, "humanitarian assistance has been hampered by the dreadful violence and lack of access in recent months."

Ongoing conflict

South Sudan fell into conflict only a couple years after declaring independence from Sudan in a 2011 referendum. Since December 2013, government forces under President Salva Kiir have been fighting rebels led by former deputy Riek Machar. Both sides have been accused of atrocities, and the fighting has caused mass displacement.

"Since fighting broke out nearly two years ago, children have been plagued by conflict, disease, fear and hunger," according to UNICEF South Sudan Representative Jonathan Veitch.

The statement said food insecurity in the country is 80 percent higher than it was during the same period last year.

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