A famine that was declared in parts of South Sudan four months ago is over, UN aid agencies said on Wednesday, but extreme hunger has increased to its highest levels ever across the war-torn country.
"The accepted technical definition of famine no longer applies in former Unity State's Leer and Mayandit counties, where famine was declared in February," according to a joint statement from the UN children's agency UNICEF, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).
An estimated 6 million people, half the population, are expected to be severely food insecure this month and next, up from 5.5 million in May, a UN-backed food security report said.
And the number of people facing emergency levels of hunger – one step below famine – has increased to 1.7 million from one million in February.
The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report was based on a survey by a working group, including government and UN officials.
The report said there was no longer famine in counties in the north of the country where it was declared in February. However, there were concerns about another region in the country's east, bordering Ethiopia, that was once called Jonglei state, and Unity state, where 45,000 people are expected to remain in famine-like conditions.
South Sudan created new states this year and last year, splitting existing ones.
The man-made famine, due to three years of conflict, has affected 100,000 people.
The term famine is used according to a globally agreed scale determined by levels of access to food, acute malnutrition and daily deaths due to hunger.
"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 the 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."
South Sudan, the world's youngest nation, was plunged into civil war in 2013 after President Salva Kiir accused his rival and former deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup against him.
Farming communities have been driven from their homes, leaving fields unharvested and markets disrupted, and food prices have soared.
"The conflict-related displacement of over 200,000 people from northern, central, and eastern former Jonglei has severely disrupted livelihoods and access to social services, thus severely undermining food security in the state," the report said.
More than 3.5 million people have been displaced by the conflict, and tens of thousands killed.