Washington - Hundreds of thousands of people in Sudan's conflict-torn state of South Kordofan are on the brink of famine as Khartoum keeps up a blockade on aid agencies, a new survey released Thursday said.
The study, carried out by an international aid group and released via the Washington-based Enough Project, warns the situation in the state resembles the conditions that led up to the Horn of Africa famine in 2011.
"If the international community does not respond to these early warning indicators in South Kordofan, the situation could have devastating consequences," said John Prendergast, the project's co-founder.
A team of public health experts from the aid group - which has asked not to be identified for security reasons - visited the Nuban mountains under the control of the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N).
Large numbers of people displaced by the conflict, which has raged for over a year, are living in caves in the mountains. During the team's two-week study in August they assessed some 2 467 children aged from six months to just under five years and found 14.9% were suffering from acute malnutrition.
About 81.5% of households are surviving on only one meal a day, a huge rise from a year ago when it was only 9.5%, and two years ago, when no households reported not being able to eat more than once a day.
At least 73.2% of households reported having no source of income, and 65.7% of households had only one week's supply of food.
The researchers were unable to reach communities living along the frontlines of the conflict pitting Khartoum against the rebels, and fear conditions are even worse there.
An estimated 350 000 people are trapped in the area, which has been subjected to a barrage of government bombings as they fight the SPLM-N rebels.
Another 70 000 are in similarly dire straits in the Blue Nile state, where rebels are also fighting government forces.
"This is a political famine. Because of near daily bombings by the government of Sudan, its own people have been unable to plant or harvest crops," Jonathan Hutson, the project's communications director told AFP.
"So when we come to the dry season... in just a few weeks, the harvest is expected to be very low yield and will only slightly ameliorate the near famine conditions that have already taken hold throughout the Nuba mountains."
Enough called on the international community to pre-position some 20,000 tons of food, as well as medical supplies, shelters and other goods along the South Kordofan border, and to pressure Khartoum to lift the blockade.
There are no reliable figures on how many people have died in aerial bombing, shelling and firefights across South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, where the SPLM-N launched its insurgency last year.
But the United Nations has reported a steadily increasing number of hungry people fleeing for South Sudan, where more than 173 000 are now encamped.
Early warning indicators
Enough Project - set up by the Centre for American Progress to end genocide and crimes against humanity - also called on the African Union to act with the UN Security Council to help negotiate humanitarian access.
The survey was the first on-the-ground assessment of the situation in the region since June 2011, and its findings were independently vetted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Experts fear that without an intervention the situation will worsen. Aid groups say tens of thousands of people have died of hunger since the mid-2011 severe drought in the Horn of Africa, afflicting Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya.
"While there were early warning indicators for Somalia at that time, interventions were not fully scaled to a level that met the growing need until the situation hit crisis levels and a famine was declared," the project said.
"If the international community does not respond to similar early warning indicators in South Kordofan, the situation could become as severe as the famine in Somalia, in which hundreds of thousands of people died, including 29 000 children in three months."
SPLM-N rebels fought alongside insurgents from southern Sudan who waged a 22-year civil war which ended in a 2005 peace deal leading to South Sudan's independence in July 2011.