War in South Sudan is worsening despite a faltering peace deal, with thousands of women and girls raped, killed or abducted in recent months, a coalition of aid agencies said Thursday.
"The situation for civilians is desperate and getting worse as fighting persists," said the NGO Forum, an alliance of over 300 South Sudanese and international aid agencies.
The army and rebels have repeatedly traded blame, accusing each other of breaking an internationally-brokered August 26 ceasefire, the eighth such agreement aimed at ending the 22-month long war.
Both sides are accused of having perpetrated ethnic massacres, recruited and killed children and carried out widespread rape, torture and forced displacement of populations to "cleanse" areas of their opponents.
Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed, the country\’s economy destroyed and several regions pushed to the brink of famine. Over 30 aid workers have been killed.
The coalition of non-governmental organisations, who say they provide up to 90 percent of aid on the ground, warned of a "continued deterioration in the humanitarian situation", with fighting spreading to Western Equatoria state in the south of the country, which has previously been mainly peaceful.
In the battleground Unity state, key aid agencies have been forced to pull out of Leer, Mayendit and Koch counties after escalation in fighting in recent weeks.
"At least 1,000 civilians were killed, 1,300 women and girls were raped, and 1,600 women and children were abducted in Leer, Mayendit and Koch," the NGO Forum said, quoting a September assessment report which detailed atrocities over the previous six months.
South Sudan descended into bloodshed in December 2013 when President Salva Kiir accused Riek Machar, whom he had sacked as his deputy six months previously, of planning a coup.
Over 630,000 civilians have fled as refugees to neighbouring nations, while over 1.6 million have fled their homes inside South Sudan — including some 185,000 civilians sheltering inside United Nations peacekeeper camps.
The UN on Wednesday warned that more than a third of the country — over 4.6 million people — are in desperate need of food aid, classifying in them as "severely food insecure".
The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), which makes detailed technical assessments of hunger, are expected to release their latest report later this month.
Aid workers say they fear "pockets" of possible famine — a disaster caused by war, not by climatic conditions.