Fighting between rival forces has caused a food crisis
South Sudan’s hunger crisis has eased after a “green harvest”, but about 1.5 million people are still in desperate need of food aid, experts say.
The situation could worsen next year, when a further one million people could find themselves in a “crisis” or “emergency”, they added.
The charity Oxfam warned earlier this month that South Sudan could “tip into a famine” next year.
The crisis has been blamed on conflict between government and rebel forces.
Conflict broke out in December after President Salva Kiir accused his sacked deputy, Riek Machar, of plotting a coup.
He denied the charge but later marshalled rebel militias and the dispute escalated into ethnic fighting.
The unrest has displaced nearly two million people in the world’s newest state which became independent in 2011.
The dispute that began in December escalated into ethnic fighting
Mr Kiir, aid agencies and UN officials have all warned that South Sudan risked a famine if the conflict continued.
However, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) group, made up of experts from the UN and aid agencies, said “food security across the country has begun improving”.
This was expected to continue until the end of the year, particularly in areas not affected by conflict, it said in a report.
Normal rainfall, good crop planting and the start of a “green harvest” have had a “positive effect” on food production, the group added.
However, food production remained much worse compared to a typical year at harvest time, it said.
About 1.5 million people were expected to remain in a “crisis” or “emergency” situation until December and the number could rise to 2.5 million next year, the IPC added.
“Severe challenges include early depletion of household food stocks, dysfunctional markets, loss of livelihoods and displacement – all resulting from protracted conflict,” it said.
Fighting erupted in the South Sudan capital, Juba, in December 2013. It followed a political power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his ex-deputy Riek Machar. The squabble has taken on an ethnic dimension as politicians’ political bases are often ethnic.
Sudan’s arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.
Both Sudan and the South are reliant on oil revenue, which accounts for 98% of South Sudan’s budget. They have fiercely disagreed over how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state – at one time production was shutdown for more than a year. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north.
The two Sudans are very different geographically. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.
After gaining independence in 2011, South Sudan is the world’s newest country – and one of its poorest. Figures from 2010 show some 69% of households now have access to clean water – up from 48% in 2006. However, just 2% of households have water on the premises.
Just 29% of children attend primary school in South Sudan – however, this is also an improvement on the 16% recorded in 2006. About 32% of primary-age boys attend, while just 25% of girls do. Overall, 64% of children who begin primary school reach the last grade.
Almost 28% of children under the age of five in South Sudan are moderately or severely underweight. This compares with the 33% recorded in 2006. Unity state has the highest proportion of children suffering malnourishment (46%), while Central Equatoria has the lowest (17%).