David Shearer expects South Sudan regions will declare famine

Former Labour Party leader David Shearer says he expects more regions in conflict-torn South Sudan to be officially declared in famine as the security situation worsens.

Now the head of mission for the United Nations there, Mr Shearer says his current role is one of the most challenging he's ever had.

That's because more than 7.5m people need aid, more than a million children are acutely malnourished and 3.4m have been displaced by the escalating conflict.

Flanked by a private security team, Mr Shearer is in charge of 14,000 peacekeeping troops and police from 45 different nations.

"Without them there quite frankly hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese people would die. So are we making a difference? Yeah we are."

His job as head of mission for the UN is all about protecting civilians and ensuring there's safe passage for the delivery of aid.

But he's also tasked with helping political leaders find peace, which he says is "hugely challenging".

The last time political leaders met for peace talks in the capital Juba, fighting erupted between forces loyal to each side.

More than 300 people were killed. Fighting has already led to famine being declared in central parts of the country.

People in Northern Bahr el Ghazal near the border with Sudan are also in crisis - thousands are starving, food supply routes have been cut off and crops have failed.

"Bahr Ghazal I think is going to be the next place where famine will be declared. I think it's actually going to be the place where most people are going to be at risk", Mr Shearer says.

Many seek refuge inside overcrowded UN-run protection of civilian sites.

But the struggle for survival doesn't end there. Rajina Otowo isn't yet resgistered to get rations and is stuggling to feed her baby.

"We came here but still have nothing to eat, no where to stay and nothing to give our children" Ms Otowo says. "We're not yet benefiting from the food distribution".

To get by, one group has been going outside the protection of civilian site to gather firewood to sell.

It's a grinding role leading a protection force where war is so entrenched.

And for Shearer, who rarely sees his family back home in New Zealand, it can be isolating too.

"It's sort of lonely in a way, but that's just part and parcel of the job, particularly if you're the leader of an organisation like this. As they say, it's lonely being at the top."

He's working alongside three other New Zealanders - but says he'd like to see more on the ground because he believes we're great trainers and teachers.

Michael Morrah travelled to East Africa with assistance from World Vision. Click here to donate to the East Africa Hunger Crisis campaign.