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South Sudan Humanitarian Crisis

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Ten years after gaining independence and four years after signing the most recent peace agreement, people in South Sudan continue to face deteriorating humanitarian conditions.

Conflict, public health challenges and climatic shocks have severely affected people’s livelihoods and hindered access to essential services. The Human Development Index, launched in 1990 to look beyond gross domestic product as a measure of well-being, ranks South Sudan last globally. South Sudan’s life expectancy is 55, people spend just 5.5 years in school on average and earn $768 a year.

In 2023, 9.4 million people will be in need of humanitarian assistance, 76% of South Sudan’s population, and an increase of 500,000 people from 2022. Sara Beysolow Nyanti, the Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan, said, “Something has to change in South Sudan because the number of people in need continues to rise every year and the resources continue to decrease.”

Conflict and insecurity, fueled by intercommunal violence, crime and wide-scale impunity, continue to be among the main drivers of humanitarian needs in South Sudan. Armed conflict in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state has displaced at least 20,000 people since August, with some forced to flee up to four times. More than half the population of South Sudan, around 6.6 million people, are severely hungry.

(Photo: A view of the Protection of Civilians site in Bentiu, South Sudan. Source: World Humanitarian Summit; CC BY-ND 2.0)

The World Bank says 86 million Africans may be made homeless by climate change in the coming decades. The displaced people around the Sudd, a wetland at the center of South Sudan that is twice the size of Belgium, are among the first. United Nations (UN) agencies say four years of record rains have flooded two-thirds of South Sudan.

South Sudan is among the top 10 countries in the world most vulnerable to the impacts of a changing climate, including droughts and flooding. In some parts of the country, floodwaters from the 2019-2020 rainy season had not yet receded by the start of the 2021 rainy season. Climate change combined with short-term changes, such as a change in seasonality of rains, have indirect effects on peace and security.

Key facts
  • The number of people in South Sudan who are going hungry is at the highest level ever, UN agencies said in their latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report released on Nov. 3. The IPC report says 1.4 million children under 5 will likely suffer from acute malnutrition in 2023 and that “humanitarian food assistance must be scaled up immediately to save lives and prevent a total collapse of livelihoods.”
  • An estimated 8 million people, or 64% of the population, in South Sudan will experience severe food insecurity by the peak of the 2023 lean season between April and July.
  • As of Oct. 28, over 1 million people were verified as affected by torrential rain and flooding in 36 counties across South Sudan.
  • South Sudan’s 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) was only 67.3% funded as of Jan. 31, 2023, and the World Food Programme (WFP) was forced to suspend assistance to 1.7 million people earlier in 2022 because of a lack of funds.
  • To address the most critical needs of 6.8 million people, the 2023 HRP will require $1.7 billion and “only timely and at-scale funding will enable us to respond to people’s needs.”
  • As of Dec. 31, there are 2,268,934 South Sudanese refugees hosted in neighboring countries, with Uganda hosting 37% (854,268) of the total figure.
  • Of the 2.2 million IDPs in South Sudan, 19% are located in the state of Warrap, 17% in Unity and 14% each in Central Equatoria and Jonglei.
  • An Ebola outbreak in neighboring Uganda risks spreading to South Sudan, however as of Dec. 19, no positive results have been confirmed.
Conflict and violence

South Sudan remains one of the least peaceful countries in the world, according to the 2021 Global Peace Index. The economic cost of the country’s violence is estimated at 42.1% of the total gross domestic product, which is second only to Syria globally.

South Sudan’s latest peace agreement, the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan, was signed in 2018. The agreement led to a fragile truce and resulted in the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity in February 2020.

Although hostility between the government and the main opposition has decreased, the power-sharing logic of the peace agreement may be contributing to ongoing violence in the country rather than producing lasting peace.

The UN is concerned that South Sudan’s Transitional Government may not meet its critical benchmarks. In July 2022, the U.S. ended assistance for peace process monitoring mechanisms saying South Sudan’s leaders have shown “a lack of political will necessary to implement critical reforms.”

In August 2022, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir announced the country’s transitional government would remain in power for another two years, delaying elections that were scheduled for December. The U.S., Britain and Norway have played key roles in mediating the peace process and expressed reservations about the extension.

In October 2022, members of the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan said progress on the 2018 peace agreement has been extremely slow and called for urgent action to save lives.

Increased tensions and conflict between armed factions in Upper Nile state in August resulted in thousands of people being displaced. According to UNHCR, the UN’s Refugee Agency, at least 200,000 people have been displaced there since August, with some forced to flee up to four times. Women and children and others at high risk make up most of those displaced. Some older people or those with disabilities have been unable to flee.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), “Over 2,300 people arrived to the Malakal Protection of Civilians (POC) site since the start of the crisis. This surge of new arrivals puts additional pressure on the already limited capacity of partners to provide services to support them, with limited space for them to stay.”

The situation remains dynamic, demonstrating the challenges faced by people fleeing conflict and violence and humanitarians providing aid. In conflict settings, some experts argue that aid in settings like South Sudan should be attuned to local political and conflict dynamics by applying conflict analysis.

Yasmin Sooka, Chairperson of the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, warned UN-appointed human rights experts in September 2022 that the international community needs to pay more attention to the escalating violence at a local level all across the country. Subnational conflicts involving local militias continue to persist and have severe impacts on people.

Sexual violence remains widespread among rival communities. In 2021, violence in Tambura County of Western Equatoria saw human rights violations and abuses, including targeting civilians based on ethnicity and gender.

Amnesty International documented potential war crimes and other violations during the fighting in Western Equatoria. The various forms of violence threaten and undermine people’s physical and mental well-being.

An Amnesty International report released in May 2022 reveals how conflict-related sexual violence is ongoing in the country and how guns are used to facilitate sexual violence. In September 2022, a UN human rights team said incidents of rape had become so common in South Sudan that many women no longer report repeated sexual attacks. Rape victims lack access to medical and trauma care. An investigation by The New Humanitarian and Al Jazeera found that reports of sexual abuse by aid workers at an UN-run camp in the country have continued and recently increased.

Between April to June 2022, at least 188 incidents of violence affecting 922 civilians were recorded. The number of incidents of violence during this period represents a 9% increase compared to January to March 2022. Conflict-related sexual violence increased by 92% from April to June 2022. Conflict-related sexual violence increased by 92% from April to June 2022.

According to ACAPS analysis, humanitarian access remains highly constrained and violence against humanitarian workers is ongoing. Three aid workers were killed on duty in September 2022 alone. South Sudan continues to be one of the most dangerous places for aid workers, with nine humanitarian workers killed in 2022 and three humanitarian workers killed already in January 2023.

Flooding

South Sudan is facing its worst flooding in decades. Four consecutive years of record-breaking rains and floods have left people without food or land to cultivate. The devastating flooding has damaged shelters and schools, destroyed crops and household goods, reduced access to safe water and hindered humanitarian access. As of Oct. 28, 2022, over 1 million people were verified as affected by torrential rain and flooding in 36 counties across South Sudan.

Communities prepare themselves for the rainy season by building dikes but in 2022, these preparations were not sufficient to hold back the water. As a result of the catastrophic flooding, humanitarian organizations, such as MSF, report witnessing a worrying increase in rates of moderate to severe acute malnutrition.

December to February are typically the driest months for South Sudan, when the rivers subside and the Sudd wetlands air out. Currently, the water from the previous floods is not receding before the next rains come. Dr. Liz Stephens, professor in climate risks and resilience at the University of Reading, said, “It will certainly take years for the floods from 2021 to recede, because the land is disconnected from the main river, so floodwaters have to evaporate rather than drain away.”

The effects of the flooding are severe and broad. According to the international non-government organization (NGO) CARE, the worsening flooding situation threatens an already fragile health system in South Sudan. In 2021, the flooding destroyed 161,055 acres (65,177 hectares) of agricultural land and killed 795,558 livestock. Around 835,000 people in 33 out of 78 counties in eight states were affected by flooding between May and December 2021.

Many people who lost their 2021 harvest lost their livestock due to diseases caused by animals grazing on flooded fields. Collecting and eating plants is one coping strategy people have used. Thousands of people are being forced to move, perhaps permanently, from their traditional lands. With South Sudan already experiencing ethnic tensions and subnational conflict over resources, large scale displacements caused by flooding are likely to exacerbate the situation as people move into new lands.

The UNOCHA Oct. 11 flooding snapshot said, “In Unity, increasing water levels were reported in Rubkona and Bentiu towns, putting pressure on existing dykes. During the early hours of 9 October 2022, two areas of the dykes breached, and required immediate support to prevent water flooding the humanitarian hub, the IDP sites, and the UNMISS base. The water levels have now reached the highest levels experienced in 2021.”

Source: UNOCHA

According to UNOCHA, “The ongoing flood response is hampered by renewed violence and insecurity, inaccessibility due to impassible roads, broken bridges, flooded airstrips, the lack of air assets, the lack of critical core pipeline supplies and funding constraints.”

Displacement

Critical drivers of displacement in South Sudan are conflict and flooding. There are more than 2.2 million IDPs in South Sudan, and more than 2.2 million South Sudanese are refugees in neighboring countries. The South Sudanese refugee crisis remains the largest in Africa. Around 15% of the refugee population are people with disabilities.

Many displaced people have been forced to relocate multiple times to seek better living conditions or flee violence. Women, girls and people with disabilities are at risk of sexual violence, both inside displacement sites and when collecting fuel or food in surrounding areas.

In addition to conflict and violence, flooding remains another key driver of displacement in the country. Flooding has displaced more than 182,000 people, including 84,400 in Northern Bahr el Ghazal state alone.

Source: ACAPS

The refugee crisis is a children’s crisis; children make up 65% of the refugee population. Refugee children face particular risks, including child labor, abduction and exposure to being trafficked.

Of the five neighboring countries hosting South Sudanese refugees, Uganda is projected to host the most in 2022. The majority of refugees are situated in remote and economically underserved areas. Host communities are often in an unstable socioeconomic situation themselves, and new refugees’ arrival could further exacerbate hardship.

In September 2022, the return of 6,971 South Sudanese refugees was reported, compared with 3,142 in August. The increase is due to lack of livelihood opportunities elsewhere, deteriorating economic conditions in Ethiopia and reduced food in refugee camps.

Analyses by REACH in May 2022 found that the first reason people were returning to the country was for family reasons. Since the signing of the revitalized peace agreement in October 2018, nearly 600,000 refugee returnees have been reported. Displacements remain dynamic and fluid.

Source: UNHCR
Food insecurity

The South Sudan 2023 HRP says, “Two-thirds of South Sudan’s population are affected by the precarious food security situation, making the country one of the worst food insecurity emergencies in the world. An estimated 8 million people or 64 per cent of the population in South Sudan will experience severe food insecurity by the peak of the 2023 lean season between April and July.”

The number of people in South Sudan who are going hungry is at the highest level ever, UN agencies said in their latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report released on Nov. 3. The IPC report says 1.4 million children under 5 will likely suffer from acute malnutrition in 2023 and that “humanitarian food assistance must be scaled up immediately to save lives and prevent a total collapse of livelihoods.”

Source: IPC

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the WFP identified South Sudan as one of six “hunger hotspots” in their October 2022 report. The report says, “Coupled with macroeconomic challenges and impacts of prolonged conflict, new floods are expected to keep food insecurity at extreme levels, outbalancing the beneficial effects of a forthcoming harvesting period.”

The war in Ukraine has contributed to food shortages globally and has sent food and fuel prices soaring. WFP has been forced to suspend aid delivery in some parts of South Sudan due to a lack of funding. Two children and an adult died of starvation in a displacement camp in the northern Warrap state as the suspension of food aid began. According to WFP, “Since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis, the food basket cost per person per month saw an increase in all markets, reaching 272 percent, 128 percent, 117 percent, and 110 percent in Yida, Kapoeta, Wau and Bunj markets, respectively, as of the last week of September.”

The combined effects of devastating flooding, linked to climate change, and armed conflict have reduced agricultural production, led to a loss of livelihoods and destroyed household assets.

According to UNOCHA in their September 2022 humanitarian snapshot, “Food prices increased by 32 per cent, compared to the previous month. Increasing malnutrition cases were reported in Canal/Pigi and Old Fangak counties in Jonglei, due to the impacts of conflict and floods on food sources.”

According to Oxfam research published in May 2022, “More than 80% of the respondents in the study pointed to the intercommunal conflicts and the recurring floods that have hit the region over the past three years as being the major drivers of the food security crisis.” Traditional sources of livelihoods for women have been depleted which contributed to an increase in gender inequality.

Adeyinka Badejo, WFP acting country director in South Sudan, said, “Until conflict is addressed, we will continue to see these numbers increase because what it means is that people do not have safe access to their lands to cultivate.”

During a complex humanitarian emergency, immediate needs include shelter, food, water, sanitation and hygiene, health care, protection of at-risk populations and case management. These needs will continue through the course of the CHE.

Food assistance and livelihood support

The main challenge is food insecurity or lack of food, undermining people’s health and increasing protection risks. A qualitative assessment for the 2022 Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO) identified food security and livelihoods as the most needed assistance for men in 55% of assessed households.

In response, scaling up multi-sectoral humanitarian assistance is needed to save lives and prevent the collapse of livelihoods. The severity of food security and livelihood needs are concentrated in the same areas most affected by flooding. Food security and nutrition funding should directly support women, and improving market access is critical.

According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), “Given the high levels of acute food insecurity in the country, immediate scale-up of multi-sectoral humanitarian assistance is needed to save lives and prevent the total collapse of livelihoods in the affected counties, particularly those with a high share of populations in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4).”

Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)

After food security and livelihoods, WASH is another urgent need. An estimated 6.1 million people need WASH assistance in 2023.

People’s access to safe and improved water and sanitation is low. Around 42% of the population do not have access to an improved water source and 45% need to walk for more than 30 minutes to access a main water source.

Commonly reported issues in accessing WASH facilities include long lines and congestion at the water collection points. Additionally, women and girls frequently face physical and sexual assault and harassment at the water collection points, bathing areas and latrines.

According to the South Sudan 2023 HRP, “The first sectoral objective of the WASH Cluster is to contribute to reducing malnutrition. The WASH Cluster partners will integrate their response with nutrition partners to reduce the burden of WASH-related diseases as aggravating factors for malnutrition. This will improve food intake of malnourished children and contribute to the sustainability of health and nutrition objectives.”

In areas hosting IDPs, high demand results in water points being unable to supply enough drinking water. Safe drinking water and basic sanitation is needed to reduce the risk of water-borne related outbreaks.

Protection

In 2023, an estimated 5.6 million people need protection assistance. South Sudan remains in a protracted protection crisis, with women and girls continuously at risk of being attacked while carrying out their daily routines as they care for their families’ needs. Gender inequality and disability exclusion in the country allows for the continued marginalization of at-risk groups, particularly women, girls, LGBTQI+ individuals and people with disabilities.

Sexual abuse, rape and harassment of women and girls, including by armed forces, were key protection issues raised in interviews conducted in support of the 2022 HNO. The South Sudan 2023 HNO reported that “child protection and general protection needs have significantly increased since 2022.”

Women are at particular risk of sexual violence and gender-based violence (GBV). Additionally, the 2023 HNO said older persons and persons with disabilities were reportedly the most vulnerable demographic groups in terms of protection issues, barriers to services and access to assistance.

Ensuring the protection of affected people requires an understanding of protection mainstreaming principles. The South Sudan Protection Cluster provides information and updates on humanitarian partner activities.

Physical and mental health

South Sudan’s health system is among the poorest in the world. There is a severe shortage of trained health professionals. There are growing demands for basic health care services and flooding is threatening the already fragile health system in the country. Amid increasing needs, reduced funding is having direct consequences on South Sudanese.

According to the 2023 HNO, “Limited functionality of health facilities, capacity and poor coverage, including recent closures of health facilities due to reduced funding, have made it difficult to meet increasing health needs worsened by floods, food insecurity and conflict. Women, children, the elderly and PWD are particularly vulnerable to the limited access to health care.”

In 2023, the Health Cluster will target 3.4 million people or 55.7% of the 6.1 million people in need of health services. Health Cluster priorities in 2023 include “improve equitable access to essential life-saving quality health services, including maternal, new-born, child and adolescent health and sexual and reproductive health, as well as treatment of common illnesses and non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, disability, MHPSS-[mental health and psychosocial support] and GBV-related health services.”

On May 7, 2022, South Sudan’s Ministry of Health announced a cholera outbreak in Rubkona county in Unity State. As of Nov. 6, 424 cholera cases, including one death, have been reported since March 2022. Nearly 89.3% of cases are reported from the Bentiu IDP camp.

In March and April 2022, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and South Sudan’s Ministry of Health jointly carried out the first two rounds of a hepatitis E vaccination campaign in Bentiu internally displaced persons camp in South Sudan’s Unity state. There is no specific treatment for hepatitis E, which has a fatality rate of up to 25% among pregnant women.

Neighboring Uganda is racing to contain a deadly Ebola outbreak that has killed at least 55 people out of the 139 total cases confirmed as of Nov. 14. South Sudan is now on high alert. On Sept. 20, South Sudan’s undersecretary in the Ministry of Health, Victoria Anib Majur, urged communities living along the border with Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to report any suspicious cases of Ebola to health authorities. As of Dec. 18, no positive Ebola results have emerged among the suspected cases in South Sudan.

Years of conflict and the impact of COVID-19 have resulted in trauma and mental health conditions for a large proportion of the country’s population. Despite mental health and psychosocial concerns, access to mental health and psychosocial support remains lacking and is urgently needed along with life-skills education.

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy has a Global Recovery Fund that provides an opportunity for donors to meet the ongoing and ever-expanding challenges presented by global crises. CDP also has a Disaster Recovery Fund that provides the chance for donors to meet the needs of those affected by this displacement crisis in the U.S. and territories.

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Philanthropic contributions

If you would like to make a donation to the CDP Global Recovery Fund or the CDP Disaster Recovery Fund, please contact development.

(Photo: IDPs in the capital of South Sudan relocate to a cleaner, drier location across town, under the protection of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan. Source: UN Photo/Isaac Billy; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Recovery updates

If you are a responding NGO or a donor, please send updates on how you are working on this crisis to Tanya Gulliver-Garcia.

We welcome the republication of our content. Please credit the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

Donor recommendations

If you are a donor looking for recommendations on how to help with this crisis, please email Regine A. Webster.

Philanthropic and government support

Grants from the philanthropic community vary in size, focus and sector. The following are examples of the diversity of philanthropy’s response:

  • Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) provided $750,000 through its COVID-19 Response Fund to Save the Children for the Local Response Pooled Fund in South Sudan. This pooled funding mechanism transfers resources and decision-making power over funding decisions to local actors. The project will fund 11 South Sudanese organizations to meet the most critical COVID-19-related humanitarian needs in remote and hard-to-reach areas of the country.
  • CDP provided $250,000 through its Global Recovery Fund to the Near East Foundation to provide immediate, life-saving support to at-risk, crisis-impacted people in South Sudan and Sudan. The project will reduce the risk of food insecurity, recover livelihoods and build resilience to future shocks through improved agricultural production, inclusive value chain development and access to finance.
  • Open Road Alliance provided $100,000 to CORE Group to support their COVID-19 response.
  • Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provided $291,200 to Adeso to support the development and implementation of actions that promote exchange, sharing, learning and coordination of COVID-19 related topics.
  • The UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women provided $206,769 to Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa to promote positive changes in attitudes, behaviors and practices to end sexual violence against women and girls in four camps for IDPs.

South Sudan’s 2023 HRP requested $1.7 billion to meet the needs of 6.8 million people targeted for assistance. The UN and its partners launched the 2022 HRP on May 25, and 67.3% ($1.70 billion) of the HRP was funded as of Jan. 31. The U.S. is the largest source of current funding, representing 64.1% ($733.3 million) of overall funding. On July 7, the U.S. announced it would provide the country with an additional $117 million in humanitarian assistance. On Aug. 4, the U.S. announced an additional $106 million for the WFP. An investment of $43.5 million in youth development in the country was announced by the U.S. on Nov. 16. South Sudan’s current HRP has seen a decrease of more than $20 million in funding compared to 2021.

This appeal is in addition to the $1.2 billion requested in the 2022 South Sudan Regional Refugee Response Plan to support 2.3 million refugees in 2022.

More ways to help

As with most disasters and emergencies, cash donations are recommended by disaster experts as they allow for on-the-ground agencies to direct funds to the most significant area of need, support economic recovery and ensure donation management does not detract from disaster recovery needs.

Donors can help in the following ways:

  • Provide unrestricted core funding for vetted humanitarian NGO partners that support the 2022 HRP. This is an efficient way to ensure the best use of resources in a coordinated manner. Funding the NGOs that have contributed to the HRP ensures that resources are directed to support the plan and use humanitarian partners’ best knowledge.
  • Prioritize investments in local organizations. Local humanitarian leaders and organizations play a vital role in providing immediate relief and setting the course for long-term equitable recovery in communities after a disaster or crisis. However, these leaders and organizations are mostly under-resourced and underfunded. Grant to locally-led entities as much as possible. When granting to trusted international partners with deep roots in targeted countries, more consideration should be given to those that empower local and national stakeholders.
  • Understand that recovery is possible in protracted and complex crisis settings. Even while focusing on immediate needs, remember that there are early and long-term recovery needs, too. We know that people who have been affected by shocks in complex humanitarian contexts can recover and improve their situation without waiting until the crisis is over, which may take years. Recovery is possible, and funding will be needed for recovery efforts alongside humanitarian funding. Recovery will take a long time, and funding will be needed throughout.
  • Recognize there are places and ways that private philanthropy can help that other donors may not. Private funders can support nimble and innovative solutions that leverage or augment the larger humanitarian system response, either filling gaps or modeling change that, once tested and proven, can be taken to scale within the broader humanitarian response structure. Philanthropy can also provide sustainable funding to national and local organizations.

Resources

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Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)

Water is one of the most necessary elements for life, yet according to the World Health Organization/UNICEF, 2.1 billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water. In addition, 4.5 billion people lack safely-managed sanitation facilities. Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) principles are of tremendous concern in everyday life, but can be heightened during an emergency or disaster.

Women and Girls in Disasters

Women and Girls in Disasters

Pre-existing, structural gender inequalities mean that disasters affect women and girls in different ways than they affect boys and men. The vulnerability of females increases when they are in a lower socioeconomic group.

Refugees

Refugees

Refugees are people who have been forced to flee their home countries because of persecution, war or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Many refugees are in exile to escape the effects of natural or human-made disasters.