JUBA, June 21 (Xinhua) -- Famine has receded in South Sudan after massive humanitarian response but hunger still spreads driven largely by conflict, according to a new joint report released on Wednesday.
The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) update by the government, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, UN Children's Fund, the World Food Programme, and other humanitarian partners however said the situation remains dire across the country as the number of people struggling to find enough food each day has grown to 6 million - up from 4.9 million in February, the highest level of food insecurity ever experienced in South Sudan.
WFP's Representative and Country Director in South Sudan Joyce Luma said the gains made in the famine-affected counties show what can be achieved when sustained assistance reaches families.
"But the job is far from done. This is a crisis that continues to get worse with millions of people facing the prospect of starvation if humanitarian assistance ceases. An end to this conflict is imperative," Luma said.
According to the report, the accepted technical definition of famine no longer applies in former Unity State's Leer and Mayandit counties where famine was declared in February.
In two other counties deemed high risk in February - Koch and Panyijiar- immediate and sustained humanitarian assistance most likely played a significant role in preventing further deterioration into famine.
However, the report said 45,000 people in former Unity and Jonglei states are still experiencing catastrophic conditions and face the prospect of starvation if humanitarian assistance is not sustained.
"This includes 25,000 people in former Unity State and 20,000 people in Jonglei where the situation has rapidly deteriorated because of displacements triggered by conflict and last year's poor harvest," said the report.
The three UN agencies warned that the gains made in the worst hunger hotspots must not be lost.
People's ability to feed themselves has been severely eroded and continued life-saving emergency food and livelihoods support must continue to prevent a shift back to famine.
Worsening conditions are mirrored across the country. The number of people facing emergency levels of hunger - one step below famine on the IPC scale - is 1.7 million, up from 1 million in February.
"The crisis is not over. We are merely keeping people alive but far too many face extreme hunger on the edge of a cliff," said FAO's Director of Emergencies Dominique Burgeon.
"The only way to stop this desperate situation is to stop the conflict, ensure unimpeded access and enable people to resume their livelihoods," Burgeon said.
According to the report, acute malnutrition remains a major public health emergency in several parts of South Sudan, with surveys showing Global Acute Malnutrition prevalence above the World Health Organization's emergency threshold of 15 percent, with a peak of 26.1 percent in former Duk County in Jonglei State.
The situation is expected to deteriorate even further as the lean season peaks in July - the time of year when household food supplies typically run out before the next harvest.
The increase in food insecurity has been driven by armed conflict, below-average harvests and soaring food prices as well as the effects of the annual lean season.
UNICEF Representative in South Sudan, Mahimbo Mdoe said when humanitarian agencies have access and resources, they are able to mount a swift and robust response, and save lives.
Mdoe said more than one million children in South Sudan are estimated to be malnourished.
"Food insecurity is a key issue, but so is lack of health care, poor water and sanitation and, most crucially, access to those children in need of treatment. At present, too many parts of the country remain cut off due to insecurity, leaving hundreds of thousands of children on the cusp of catastrophe," he added.