Hundreds of thousands of people in Sudan's conflict-stricken South Kordofan are surviving on roots and leaves, a top UN official told the UN Security Council on Tuesday.
About 700,000 people in South Kordofan and neighbouring Blue Nile states face "truly appalling" conditions while the Sudan government and rebels block access to international aid workers, UN humanitarian operations director John Ging said.
The conflict in the two states is said to be worsening with the Khartoum government stepping up aerial bombardments on rebel areas, according to UN officials and diplomats.
Mr. Ging told the council that most people in rebel-held areas of South Kordofan are surviving on "trees and leaves," according to diplomats in the closed meeting.
"We hear incredibly alarming stories about people having to rely on roots and leaves," Mr. Ging told reporters afterwards.
"This is 2013 and to think that tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people are living in such desperate and deplorable circumstances and we can't get in to help them."
"People are dying in South Kordofan," Mr. Ging added. More than 200,000 people have fled to South Sudan and Ethiopia and many have told horrifying stories of conditions in the conflict zones.
"When we look at the emaciated state of children and adults who have successfully made the journey out of these two areas, we can see in their physical state the obvious suffering that they have endured," Mr. Ging said.
The UN Security Council passed a resolution in May last year which demanded aid access and threatened "additional measures" if it was not given. Mr. Ging called for the council to apply pressure to follow up its demand.
"We are appealing to the Security Council for help," he said.
Kordofan and Blue Nile are on the border with South Sudan and conflict erupted there after South Sudan broke away from the Arab-dominated north in July, 2011.
The United Nations, Arab League and African Union helped broker an accord with the government and rebels to get access. Thousands of tonnes of food, medicines and other assistance are waiting to be sent into the two states.
But officials say both sides have thrown up obstacles to humanitarian workers.
"There is a deficit of political will on both sides to do what is necessary to actually give the access that we need," Mr. Ging said. "If we don't find a solution to this, then the inevitable consequence is more people will die, more needless humanitarian suffering will occur."
The 12,000 people who fled Kordofan and Blue Nile in December was double the November figure and Ging said there were "very disturbing" reports "that there is an intensification of the conflict."
U.S. ambassador Susan Rice said the U.S. government was "deeply concerned" about the humanitarian deterioration and aerial bombing blamed on the Sudanese government.
"The Security Council must work collectively now to press for immediate and unfettered humanitarian access," she told reporters.
Ms. Rice said the Khartoum government was most responsible for the crisis. "There is blame on both sides but the preponderance is and has been on the government in Khartoum," she said.
Asked if the U.S. government would support humanitarian air drops, Ms. Rice said "we have not ruled out any options" but that a political accord by the government and rebels to let in aid would be preferred.
Sudan's UN ambassador, Daffa-Alla ElHag Ali Osman, said the rebels were blocking aid and they had stepped up their military attacks.
The envoy said South Sudan's support for the rebels was holding up a permanent peace accord between the rival nations.