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South Sudan Humanitarian Crisis

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Ten years after gaining independence and three 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.

In 2022, more than two-thirds of the country’s population, 8.9 million people, will need humanitarian assistance, an increase of 600,000 since 2021. Ongoing conflict combined with severe flooding has led to large-scale displacement. There are more than 2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in South Sudan, and more than 2.3 million South Sudanese are refugees in neighboring countries.

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

South Sudan’s 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) targets 6.8 million people, including 3.4 million children and 1 million people with disabilities. UNOCHA, which prepared the HRP, expects approximately 8.3 million people, including refugees, will experience severe food insecurity at the peak of the 2022 lean season from May to July. Priority needs include food assistance, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), livelihoods and health.

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
  • From April 2022 to July 2022, an estimated 7.74 million people, 62.7% of the population, will likely face high acute food insecurity.
  • Humanitarian agencies cannot meet the identified needs due to a severe lack of funding. Only 34.2% of the Humanitarian Response Plan is funded, and the World Food Programme (WFP) has been forced to suspend assistance to 1.7 million people because of a lack of funds.
  • As of July 1, there are 2,339,429 South Sudanese refugees hosted in neighboring countries, with Uganda hosting 920,768.
  • Of the more than 2 million IDPs in South Sudan, 19% are located in the state of Warrap, 17% in Central Equatoria and 15% each in Unity and Jonglei.
  • As of May 6, 10% of South Sudan’s population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
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 United Nations (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 addition to food insecurity and disease outbreaks, intercommunal violence and conflict are primary drivers of humanitarian needs. In July 2022, more than 17,500 people were displaced and at least 80 killed during intercommunal violence in Eastern Equatoria. Recent episodes of conflict and violence are characterized by attacks by armed cattle keepers, fighting between armed factions, and clashes between armed youth groups and government soldiers.

Increased tensions and conflict between armed factions in Upper Nile state in August resulted in thousands of people being displaced. The situation remained 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.

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.

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.

Humanitarian access in South Sudan remains highly constrained, and violence or threats against humanitarian workers and assets is ongoing. In July, Jonglei and Upper Nile states accounted for 45% of all reported incidents, with a notable increase of incidents against humanitarian assets in Jonglei in Pibor. South Sudan remains one of the deadliest places to be an aid worker.


South Sudan is facing its worst flooding in decades. Three years of 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.

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 grinding water lilies for food consumption is one coping strategy people have used.

Approximately 80% of flood-affected people are in the states of Jonglei, Unity and Upper Niles. More than 390,000 children are without access to essential services due to the floods. Preliminary analysis of satellite-detected water by the United Nations Satellite Centre (UNOSAT) in May 2022 revealed that approximately 220,000 people are potentially exposed or living close to flooded areas.

As rains in South Sudan begin in 2022, large sections of land are still underwater from the last rainy season. In anticipation of a fourth consecutive year of floods, two UNOCHA-managed pooled funds have released $19 million for flood preparedness.  In July 2022, floods affected nearly 2,400 people in the IDP site in Twic County, Warrap state.

Source: UN OCHA

Critical drivers of displacement in South Sudan are conflict and flooding. There are more than 2 million IDPs in South Sudan, and more than 2.3 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.

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.

Spontaneous returns of South Sudanese to the country continue. According to UNHCR, 1,659 out of the 5,023 refugee returnees in the month of July 2022 went to South Sudan’s northern Upper Nile state. Approximately 47% of returnees in July were from Sudan. When asked why they were returning to South Sudan from their country of asylum, 42% said it was due to an improvement in the security situation in South Sudan. The second most common reason for returning was to reunite with family members (24%). 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

Extreme levels of food insecurity and malnutrition make South Sudan one of the worst food insecurity emergencies in the world. Throughout 2022 food insecurity has persisted and remains a key driver of humanitarian needs in the country. An estimated 7.7 million people face crisis or higher levels of food insecurity across South Sudan. The World Food Programme (WFP) says hunger in the Eastern Africa region is “worsening by the day,” with food insecurity most severe in South Sudan, where six in every ten people face acute food insecurity.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the WFP identified South Sudan as one of six “hunger hotspots” in their June 2022 report. The report says that humanitarian action in the country is critical “to preventing starvation and death.”

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.

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 the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), “In the lean season projection period of April to July 2022, an estimated 7.74 million people (62.7% of the population) will likely face high acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 3 or above).”

Source: FEWS Net via USAID

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.

According to the WFP, “At least 87,000 people are already experiencing famine-like conditions (IPC 5), and 2.9 million others are just one step from catastrophe (IPC 4 – Emergency).”

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.”

Maize, sorghum and groundnuts are the most important food products for poor rural households in South Sudan. Through June 2022, prices in local markets for these products remain above the five-year average. The volatile security situation across the country, poor road conditions, impassable rivers and tighter border control impact the movements of goods along the main supply routes and drive up prices. Reduced functionality continues to be common in the country’s markets, and the cost of some essential food items continues to rise.

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. Through July 2022, WFP was severely underfunded.

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 million people’s living standards and their well-being will be impacted in 2022 due to inadequate or lack of access to safe water and improved sanitation.

Only 36% of households report having access to an improved water source in under 30 minutes without facing protection concerns. 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.


In 2022, an estimated 5.6 million people will face protection risks and violations. Gender inequality and disability exclusion in the country allows for the continued marginalization 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.

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.

The UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ilze Brands Kehris called for the promotion and protection of human rights in South Sudan to help reduce violence and create a path for political stability.

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. Amid increasing needs, reduced funding is having direct consequences on South Sudanese.

According to the 2022 HNO, “Civilians in the affected areas are at substantial risk of having their health conditions aggravated, particularly those with chronic medical issues, older persons, separated and unaccompanied children, persons with disabilities and pregnant women, among others.”

On May 7, 2022, South Sudan’s Ministry of Health announced a cholera outbreak in Rubkona county in Unity State. As of Aug. 14, 316 cholera cases, including one death, have been reported since March 2022. Nearly 89% 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.

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.

Data from early April show that the seven-day average of reported numbers of COVID-19 cases has remained stable. The expanded use of antigen rapid diagnostics tests allows the detection of cases in remote areas. As of May 6, only 10% of South Sudan’s population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

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

South Sudan’s 2022 HRP requested $1.7 billion to meet the needs of 6.8 million people targeted for assistance.

The UN and its partners launched the HRP on May 25, and 34.2% ($581.1 million) of the HRP is currently funded. The U.S. is the largest source of current funding, representing 66.5% ($386.5 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. South Sudan’s current HRP has seen a decrease of more than $20 million in funding compared to 2021.

Sara Beysolow Nyanti, the UN humanitarian coordinator for South Sudan, said the HRP reflects a commitment to protect vulnerable people, especially women and girls, the elderly, and those with ability challenges.

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.

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.
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.
  • 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 that support operational costs evolution, independence and other efforts on behalf of affected people.


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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.