The South Sudan region that some aid workers call "the hungriest place in the world" is getting an influx that won't help its problems: Thousands of internal refugees. More than 14,000 members of the Lou Nuer tribe are flowing into the South Sudan county of Akobo after local authorities in the Upper Nile expelled them from their homes. Authorities re-drew the region's boundary lines and decided that thousands of longtime residents have no right to remain in their homes.
Neighboring Akobo can hardly absorb anyone else: The region's crops have almost completely failed, and any new harvest is still months away. The scarcity of food is particularly brutal for children: An estimated 10 percent of the county's children are at immediate risk of dying from severe malnutrition.
Katie Foster of Save the Children told the BBC that although the charitable organization is caring for 600 children in an intensive feeding program, the problem is severe: "This is one of the most serious situations that we've seen in South Sudan this year." News photos from Akobo clinics reveal children in near-skeletal conditions, swaddled by mothers powerless to stop their rapid decline.
The situation likely will only worsen as the thousands of Sudanese fleeing the Upper Nile seek shelter with relatives in the area. The region had already absorbed 20,000 people displaced by nearby fighting last year that killed at least 185 people-mostly women and children.
Akobo's desperation comes six months before South Sudanese citizens are set to vote on whether to break with North Sudan. Most expect the secession referendum to pass, but problems like severe hunger and internal conflict threaten to weaken the South's resolve-and its ability to protect itself against a northern government that may not be willing to let the oil-rich region go.