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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. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 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
  • As of March 31, there are 2,351,680 South Sudanese refugees hosted in neighboring countries, with Uganda hosting 964,960.
  • 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 April 8, only 4% of South Sudan’s population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

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.

Additionally, attacks on civilians by armed cattle raiders continued in 2021. The raiders’ attacks included several forms of violence, including killing, injury, rape, abduction, looting and destruction of property.

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.

Humanitarian access in South Sudan remains highly constrained, and attacks on humanitarian workers continue. From July to October 2021, 10 humanitarian workers were killed, 10 were injured, and five were abducted. In January 2022, Unity State had the highest number of reported sub-national violence incidents targeting humanitarian assets and facilities.


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.

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.

Source: UNHCR
Food insecurity

Extreme levels of food insecurity and malnutrition make South Sudan one of the worst food insecurity emergencies in the world. The country’s 2022 HRP estimates that 8.3 million people, including refugees, will experience severe food insecurity at the peak of the 2022 lean season from May to July, a 7% increase from 2021.

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.

Adeyinka Badejo, World Food Programme 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.”

The situation has limited food stocks in the few functional markets, and food prices have gone up with the supply cutoff. Older adults, people with disabilities and young girls and women have been left with the responsibility to feed their families, exposing them to protection risks.

Maize, sorghum and groundnuts are the most important food products for poor rural households in South Sudan. Through February 2022, prices in local markets for these products remain above the two-year average. Looting of humanitarian food packages and attacks on humanitarian convoys, combined with damage to infrastructure due to flooding, has made the delivery of food aid challenging.

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 and women in 52% of assessed households.

The most food-insecure states between February and March 2022 are Jonglei, Unity and Warrap. 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.

Source: UN OCHA
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.

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.

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.”

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 April 8, only 4% 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 March 31, and 8.2% ($139.6 million) of the HRP is currently funded. The U.S. is the largest source of current funding, representing 89.9% ($125.5 million) of overall funding.

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:

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.


See them all

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 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.