The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has launched a new emergency operation to expand its assistance to people affected by the crisis in South Sudan, the agency said on Tuesday (January 14).

The three-month operation aims to provide emergency food assistance to up to 400,000 internally displaced people, including specialised nutritional support for new mothers and young children who are most at risk from a disruption in their food supply.

The WFP has already provided assistance to at least 100,000 people in South Sudan since the conflict erupted in December, a statement by the agency said, but looting and violence has been ''greatly'' hampering their efforts.

The WFP said that food stocks pre-positioned at nearly 100 sites around the country facilitate the relief effort but these same stocks are also at risk.

"Right now we are relying on food that we pre-positioned in South Sudan for other activities, but moving forward we are going to need at least 57 million dollars, but likely more, in order to assist the conflict-affected people," said Valerie Guarnieri, WFP's regional director for East and Central Africa.

The crisis has forced at least 200,000 people to flee their homes in search of safety, during what in many parts of the country should be their harvest season, the WFP said.

"Right now we have access to people who are, who have been affected by the conflict and are living on or near the UNMISS (United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan) bases, in these protection of civilians areas, but there are very few places outside those areas in the conflict-affected states that we have been able to access the population," Guarnieri said.

In addition to support for conflict-affected people inside South Sudan, WFP is also assisting tens of thousands of refugees who have fled across South Sudan's borders into neighbouring countries, including Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya.