President Michael D Higgins has said that a resolution to the ongoing conflict in South Sudan is crucial, if a major humanitarian crisis is to be halted.

President Higgins was speaking in the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, following high level talks with Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission.

The commission represents 54 African states.

The meeting between the President and Dr Zuma, which was also attended by senior ministers from African Union member states, took place as peace talks resumed in the Ethiopian capital, aimed at finding a solution to the conflict in South Sudan.

The humanitarian situation in South Sudan has been critical since armed violence broke out in the capital Juba on 15 December 2013 and subsequently spread to several states in South Sudan.

There are 1.4 million people internally displaced with almost 470,000 refugees in neighbouring countries.

The dead and the wounded are estimated to be in the tens of thousands.

Almost four million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.

The total Irish Aid commitment to the South Sudan crisis, including to South Sudanese refugees in bordering countries, amounts to over €8.5 million to date in 2014.

"These peace talks are crucial," said President Higgins.

"The prospects of peace are still there, and that those who have expressed opinions in South Sudan are desperately hoping for peace.

"Now in to the dry season, if the peace talks break down, one is left with the prospect of the resumption of hostilities, which would lead to a further 100,000 refugees piling in on top of the camps that we visited."

President Higgins and Dr Zuma also discussed a number of other key pan-African issues, including climate change, provision of education, gender inequality and the ongoing Somali refugee crisis.

The President was also updated on African Union-supported efforts aimed at combating the Ebola outbreak.

He said: "We had a very, very fine and lengthy discussion and it went on for about twice as long as we had planned because we had so much to discuss, but it was a very, very valuable meeting."

President Higgins is travelling to the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia.

Tigray was one of the worst affected areas during the devastating famine of the mid 1980s.