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JUBA, Feb. 20 (Xinhua) -- Three UN agencies said wars and a collapsing economy have left some 100,000 people facing starvation in parts of South Sudan where famine was declared on Monday.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) on Monday also called for urgent action as almost 5 million people urgently need food, agricultural and nutrition assistance.

The UN agencies said famine was currently affecting parts of Unity State in the northern-central part of the country, adding that a further 1 million people are classified as being on the brink of famine.

"A formal famine declaration means people have already started dying of hunger. The situation is the worst hunger catastrophe since fighting erupted more than three years ago," they said in a joint statement issued in Juba.

FAO Representative in South Sudan Serge Tissot said famine had become a tragic reality in parts of South Sudan.

"Our worst fears have been realized. Many families have exhausted every means they have to survive," Tissot said.

"The people are predominantly farmers and war has disrupted agriculture. They have lost their livestock, even their farming tools. For months there has been a total reliance on whatever plants they can find and fish they can catch," he added.

According to the UN agencies, if sustained and adequate assistance is delivered urgently, the hunger situation can be improved in the coming months and further suffering mitigated.

The total number of food insecure people is expected to rise to 5.5 million at the height of the lean season in July if nothing is done to curb the severity and spread of the food crisis.

According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) update released on Monday by the government, the three agencies and other humanitarian partners, 4.9 million people -- more than 40 percent of South Sudan's population -- are in need of urgent food, agriculture and nutrition assistance.

Unimpeded humanitarian access to those facing famine, or at risk of famine, is urgently needed to reverse the escalating catastrophe, the UN agencies urged.

Jeremy Hopkins, UNICEF Representative in South Sudan, said over 1 million children are estimated to be acutely malnourished across the country, while over a quarter of a million children are already severely malnourished.

"If we do not reach these children with urgent aid many of them will die. We urge all parties to allow humanitarian organizations unrestricted access to the affected populations, so we can assist the most vulnerable and prevent yet another humanitarian catastrophe," Hopkins said.

The IPC report estimates that 14 of the 23 assessed counties have global acute malnutrition (GAM) at or above the emergency threshold of 15 percent, with some areas as high as 42 percent.

WFP Country Director Joyce Luma said the UN agencies will step up their humanitarian assistance cross the country to reverse the spread of famine.

"But we have also warned that there is only so much that humanitarian assistance can achieve in the absence of meaningful peace and security, both for relief workers and the crisis-affected people they serve," she added.

Over three years of conflict have severely undermined crop production and rural livelihoods. The upsurge in violence since July 2016 has further devastated food production, including in previously stable areas.

Soaring inflation, up to 800 percent year-on-year, and market failure have also hit areas that traditionally rely on markets to meet food needs. Urban populations are also struggling to cope with massive price rises on basic food items.

The three UN agencies, with other partners, have conducted relief operations since the conflict began and intensified the efforts throughout 2016 to mitigate the worst effects of the humanitarian crisis.

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