The lifting of the famine classification for parts of South Sudan should be welcomed but must not obscure the “humanitarian catastrophe” that has enveloped the entire country, says a senior Red Cross official.

This announcement is testament to what can be achieved when resources are available and access is possible,” said Dr Michael Charles, the Head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ (IFRC) Country Office in South Sudan. “But there is absolutely no room for complacency. South Sudan remains in the grip of a terrible humanitarian catastrophe.”

Speaking in Geneva, Dr Charles noted that, although famine conditions are no longer present, 1.7 million people still face “emergency levels of hunger” – the level below famine. Across the country, six million people are food insecure.

The difference between “famine” and “emergency levels of food insecurity” is invisible to the naked eye,” said Dr Charles. “People are still in an appallingly difficult situation, and we are already seeing the permanent consequences of this food crisis, particularly on young kids.”

More than one million children are acutely malnourished and there has been a steady increase of measles and other preventable diseases since the beginning of 2017.

Hunger beckons disease,” said Dr Charles. “Preventable, treatable diseases like measles, malaria and cholera are a potential death sentence for children who are malnourished,” he said”

In May, 1,250 South Sudan Red Cross volunteers were deployed across South Sudan to mobilize communities ahead of a nationwide vaccination campaign targeting 800,000 children under 12. These volunteers have sought out isolated and fearful communities, helping them understand the importance of vaccination efforts, and ensuring they can access the support.

Dr Charles emphasized the critical role played by the South Sudan Red Cross in responding to this crisis, and the continuing importance it will have in the country’s recovery.

We are calling on partners to invest more substantially in local capacity and insist on unconditional humanitarian access. Red Cross volunteers are uniquely placed to help those in desperate need and to provide a sustainable response to end this deepening crisis.”

IFRC is also working closely with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) which is providing critical food supplies, safe drinking water, emergency surgery and services to reunite families separated by the conflict to hundreds of thousands of people.