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MANCHESTER, England (CNS) -- South Sudan's Catholic bishops asked for the world's help to prevent mass starvation that threatens the lives of more than 5 million people.
In a separate statement, they also said the looming famine was a man-made catastrophe. They denounced government and rebel troops for attacking the civilian population and at times operating "scorched-earth" policies in defiance of international law.
In a Feb. 23 appeal for humanitarian assistance, the bishops said farmers have fled lands without planting crops as civilians are targeted by both sides in the country's increasingly bloody three-year civil war. Food shortages have been compounded by problems of unemployment, soaring inflation and poor rains, meaning that the country had now entered a critical time, the bishops said.
Citing government predictions, they estimated that about 4.9 million people would be facing famine by April and about 5.5 million people by July.
Among the most vulnerable are more than 3 million refugees and people internally displaced by fighting between the supporters of President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar.