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South Sudan no longer in famine, but situation critical

south-sudan-famine

South Sudan no longer has areas in famine, but almost two million people are on the brink of starvation, the country’s government and the United Nations said in reports.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and South Sudan’s National Bureau of Statistics said the situation remains critical, warning that an estimated six million people, half the population, will face extreme food shortages between June and July. “People are in a catastrophic situation,” said Serge Tissot, of FAO.

The country’s government said its urgent response to the emergency situation averted a humanitarian catastrophe in the country. “The government of South Sudan has done tremendously well. And now South Sudan has moved away from near famine in some parts of the country to food insecurity,” Ateny Wek Ateny, South Sudan’s presidential spokesman, told Al Jazeera.

In February, South Sudan declared two counties in Unity State to be in famine. Although those areas are still in critical condition, early detection and a rapid response succeeded in pulling them out of famine, a Phase 5 classification, the World Food Programme (WFP) said. The UN food agency warned that the crisis is worsening and that removing the label of famine does not mean the situation has actually improved. “We no longer have a famine in a number of counties that were declared to be in famine conditions in February this year,” Joyce Luma, WFP’s country director, told Al Jazeera.  “The bad news is we have more people facing acute hunger than before. Six million classified as facing acute hunger. This is one million more people facing acute hunger than in February,” she said.

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An estimated 45,000 people still face starvation in Leer, Koch and Mayendit counties, with additional areas across the country having deteriorated as well. In former Jonglei state, an area that previously had one of the lowest levels of acute malnutrition, roughly 20,000 people are experiencing catastrophic food insecurity. South Sudan was plunged into conflict in December 2013 as rivalry between President Salva Kiir and his then vice president, Riek Machar, turned into a civil war. Since then the fighting, which has often been along ethnic lines, triggered Africa’s worst refugee crisis, with more than three million people fleeing their homes.

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