The humanitarian situation in the world’s newest nation is extreme. South Sudan’s problems are stark, fragile and complex. Many aspects of its changed relationship with its northern neighbour have yet to be defined, and there is a strong legacy of mistrust. Internal political tensions persist, with threats from South Sudanese armed opposition groups who resent the perceived dominance of certain political and ethnic groups. The operational environment for humanitarian operations is often characterized by endemic intercommunal violence. Programmes deal with the mass return of South Sudanese from Khartoum and other Sudan states, high levels of food insecurity and malnutrition worsened by annual floods or drought. South Sudan also faces one of the largest capacity gaps in the continent and some of the worst humanitarian indicators in the world.
2011 brought little respite. Nearly 3 million people were estimated to need emergency food aid at the end of 2010. They included over 350,000 people fleeing the take-over of Abyei by the Sudan Armed Forces, rebel violence and intercommunal clashes, and 80,000 people fleeing fighting in Sudan's Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states, seeking refuge in South Sudan since June 2011. Humanitarians also responded to emergency needs among more than 360,000 South Sudanese who had returned from Sudan during the year, and to the deteriorating food insecurity.
As needs grow, humanitarian access is deteriorating. Activities were affected in early 2011 due to interference with relief operations, and the logistical constraints posed by periodic flooding and the poor state of transport infrastructure.
Due to the extreme needs, the complexity of the operating environment and the multitude of different actors (including 21 UN agencies and more than 150 INGOs), OCHA’s guiding role on preparedness and coordinated response was more vital than ever. So was the prompt establishment of a tried and trusted humanitarian architecture. This included strengthening the Humanitarian Country Team and rolling out the cluster approach to improve preparedness and response capacity in the 10 states of South Sudan.
OCHA gave the clusters solid guidance on their roles and responsibilities. Individual cluster management has been fully delegated to the UN and NGO co-chairs, with OCHA offering facilitation and oversight. In South Sudan, clusters are a vital part of a vertical coordination structure that spans the country, covers 10 sectors and involves key humanitarian constituencies including UN agencies, NGOs, donors and Government counterparts. The structure is consultative, but lines of accountability are included at various levels.
During the last six months as a sub-office, OCHA Juba has helped establish cluster focal points in the 10 states. Access monitoring capacity was improved through the global OCHA access database. Humanitarian access constraints were regularly analysed to inform targeted high-level advocacy, including by the ERC. Concrete outcomes included commitments by the Government of South Sudan to halt the harassment of relief workers.
OCHA will continue to lead the development of the inter-agency humanitarian contingency plan to ensure preparedness and rapid response, and will continue to support an effective fund-raising strategy for preparedness. This approach was used during the first half of 2011 to facilitate a rapid humanitarian response to the return of over 300,000 South Sudanese from Sudan, 110,000 IDPs from the Abyei crisis and towards the end of 2011 for the Jonglei crisis response.
Outside Juba, OCHA has established a physical presence in eight of the 10 states of South Sudan. It provided leadership to the humanitarian community, helped facilitate a rapid response to emergencies and secured improvements in the access situation in South Sudan. The OCHA office in Juba or elsewhere has often been the first point of call for organizations experiencing problems. In the last two years, OCHA has led negotiations to resolve several critical incidents affecting humanitarian personnel or the passage of emergency supplies.
OCHA also works closely with Government humanitarian institutions in South Sudan to promote Government leadership on humanitarian issues. OCHA has steered and supported a cross-organizational advocacy campaign to address access challenges, advising affected clusters on targeted advocacy, developing key messages for the HCT and supporting the HC in direct advocacy with the President, Vice President and state governors.
OCHA’s use of timely, reliable and evidence-based news stories through its publications has enabled a steady flow of information from humanitarian partners in emergency-affected areas to high-level humanitarian decision makers, donors and the public. OCHA’s ability to collect first-hand information from sources in the field and filter that information has meant providing valuable operational analysis to those who need it most. OCHA also maintains databases to track conflict incidents with a humanitarian impact and ongoing response. This information is used by the humanitarian community to inform decision-making and response.
Based on the above, OCHA’s strategy to improve the expected humanitarian situation for the next two years is to:
Strengthen strategic coordination in Juba to build consensus among key stakeholders including the Government, donors, UN agencies and NGOs.
Strengthen operational coordination at the cluster and state levels to optimize humanitarian response.
Improve humanitarian access and space through monitoring and advocacy efforts.
Ensure that transitional coordination and transition funding mechanisms are in place.