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Nyakong Kiir, left, assists her daughter-in-law Nyanom Gay, a 26-year-old mother of four who was infected with malaria, in Padding, South Sudan, on July 2, 2017.

Six years after gaining independence, the country is ravaged by fighting, severe hunger and mass displacement

For the second year in a row, the world's youngest nation will not have any official celebrations to mark the anniversary of its birth because of the widespread suffering caused by its ongoing civil war.

"We did not feel it was appropriate to spend whatever little funds we may have to celebrate, when our people are hugely affected by the economic crisis," said South Sudan President Salva Kiir in an address to the nation on Sunday. "It's difficult for many people to afford even one meal per day."

People wait in line for a Mercy Corps distribution in Nyal, South Sudan, in April, 2017.

Six years after South Sudan gained independence, the country is ravaged by fighting, severe hunger, mass displacement and accusations of war crimes by government and opposition forces.

For the country's 11 million people, what began with optimism has turned into a day of mourning.

A woman drinks water from a dirty swamp in an area where hundreds of displaced people live in Padding, South Sudan, on July 4, 2017.

Six years ago, on July 9, Martha Athieng slaughtered a bull with her family and friends and danced around her village.

"We all hoped for a better life," said Athieng. "We never knew we'd start killing each other."

Children attend a Mercy Corps-supported school in Bentiu, South Sudan, in December, 2016.

When the war broke out, Athieng's husband and mother in law were both shot dead in fighting that erupted in her town in Jonglei state. Sitting in the dirt in Mingkaman, a village that's not her own, Athieng said she prays for peace so she can return home and rebuild her life. A visit to Mingkaman by The Associated Press days before the anniversary confirmed the suffering across the country.

Yien Dual, left, takes care of her younger sister, Nyachiang Dual, who is recovering from a suspected cholera infection in Padding, South Sudan, on July 3, 2017.

During four years of fighting, South Sudan's situation has gravely deteriorated.

Roughly 4 million people have been forced to flee their houses, more than half of them children, said the Norwegian Refugee Council. Six million people – half the country's population – are in need of food aid and almost 2 million South Sudanese are living as refugees in neighbouring countries.

A displaced family walks in Padding, South Sudan, on July 4, 2017. Roughly four million people have been forced to leave their homes, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.

"South Sudan's independence day is overshadowed by conflict and an unprecedented food crisis," said country director for the Norwegian Refugee Council, Rehana Zawar.

In his address to the nation, Kiir said the only solution is peace and he called on all armed groups to renounce violence and respect the cease-fire.

Earlier this year, the government declared a unilateral cease-fire, however reports of fighting by government forces have continued.

The Bentiu Protection of Civilian camp, established in 2013, is situated in South Sudan’s volatile Unity State, surrounded by cities and towns that have been destroyed by fighting. It now has more than 100,000 people seeking protection and humanitarian assistance.

Four days ago the opposition reported government attacks on rebel-held territory. "They're randomly shelling and killing people along the way," said opposition spokesman, William Gatjiath Deng.

Kiir also urged the international community to support the national dialogue, announcing that the government has earmarked about $200-million for this "crucial national project."

Children who travelled alone from South Sudan to the Ethiopian border play on swings at the Plan International Nguenyyiel refugee camp in Gambela, Ethiopia, on June 29, 2017.

However, experts say what South Sudan needs now are less words and more action. "The national dialogue is a political game," said Jacob Chol, professor of comparative politics at the University of Juba. "It's not a participatory process, the president just wanted to bring everyone together to feel in control. I won't be surprised if nothing changes."

Relatives assist Nyanom Gay, centre, who was infected with malaria, in Padding, South Sudan, on July 2, 2017.

The U.S., which played an important role in helping South Sudan to reach independence, sent a sombre statement marking the anniversary.

"The United States remains deeply committed to a stable and inclusive South Sudan, and stresses once again that there is no military solution to this conflict," said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert. "On this day meant to celebrate South Sudan's creation, we call upon South Sudan's leaders and all parties to end this self-destructive violence, to return to political dialogue, and to help South Sudan realize its full potential."