When South Sudan gained independence, national jubilation was soon tempered by harsh realities. The world’s newest state was about to inherit a complex humanitarian emergency with significant risk of further deterioration.
The vote in January 2011 had passed peacefully but violence continued along the new border and inter-communal fighting linked to migration, resettlement of returnees and competition for natural resources was on the rise. To make matters worse, food insecurity and malnutrition deepened across much of the country following annual floods and drought.
Fortunately, the humanitarian community was well prepared for an upsurge in needs. Determined not to be caught off guard, OCHA and its partners created a contingency plan that included detailed emergency scenarios, such as localized outbreaks of violence and the mass return of half a million South Sudanese.
Relief items, such as food, emergency shelter material and medical kits were pre-positioned at more than 100 supply hubs.
Humanitarian and development organizations repaired key access roads and rehabilitated a way station for returnees. OCHA also helped to build relationships with the government of South Sudan and local authorities to ensure that humanitarian assistance could be delivered wherever needed.
Partners scaled-up operations and opened six sub-offices in the most affected and high risk states.
According to Vincent Houver, Head of Mission for the International Organization for Migration, “extensive preparedness efforts during the run-up to independence undoubtedly helped to contain the worst effects of the multiple humanitarian challenges facing South Sudan.”
Besides the hundreds of thousands of people already in need in South Sudan, humanitarian agencies were able to provide rapid assistance for more than 300,000 returnees from Sudan. And when Sudanese troops moved into the contested Abyei area in May 2011, life-saving support was provided to another 110,000 people that swelled their ranks. Pre-positioned supplies, solid contingency plans and smooth coordination were also vital when large-scale inter-communal violence broke out in Jonglei State in December 2011.
The preparedness plans that helped guide the humanitarian response have since been upheld as a best practice example for emergency relief mobilization.
According to South Sudan’s Humanitarian Coordinator, Lise Grande, “we owe it to the people of South Sudan to provide assistance wherever necessary and as efficiently as possible.” OCHA’s coordinating role has been “essential to eliminate overlap and ensure that all forms of aid are delivered in a timely and effective manner.”
“Nothing has been more important in the first year of Statehood than ensuring that people had their basic needs met, including enough food to survive,” she added.