Even after ceasefire, challenges remain for NGOs in South Sudan

Members of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan stand guard at a camp for internally displaced persons fleeing the violence in the country. Delivering aid in South Sudan still remains a challenge despite a ceasefire between the government and the opposition forces. Photo by: Isaac Billy / U.N.

Access remains a challenge for most humanitarian groups in South Sudan, even after the government and opposition forces finally agreed to a cessation of hostilities last week in Addis Ababa.

This is what several aid officials told Devex four days into the ceasefire agreement, which should have taken effect on Friday. They said pockets of conflict and sporadic fights remain in several states, making it difficult for them to access many internally displaced people cut off from assistance during the conflict and to preposition items that should already be in place before the coming rainy season.

“Things are improving but in a slow pace.  We can move freely in some parts of the country, but not all,” said Plan International Country Director Gyan Adhikari.

Aid groups have welcomed the agreement, and are looking at taking advantage of the current ceasefire. But they argue the conflict in the past month has led to an increase in IDPs, their humanitarian needs and less humanitarian supplies, some because of looting.

“The biggest challenge is the lack of access to preposition the largely needed food, goods and essential items. This will remain one single challenge for all actors including the UN and especially in responding to the already displaced people in Upper Nile, Unity and Jonglei states,” Adhikari explained.

Logistical impediments

The challenges relating to access and procurement in the past month led Plan to establish a regional logistics hub in northern Uganda to help it to “proactively procure, move and distribute essential items as humanitarian access and security permits,” and Adhikari says the organization has had “strategic discussions” with the United Nations and other aid organizations on other possible logistics arrangements in the coming weeks.

Oxfam had been airlifting sanitation supplies from Juba and the United Kingdom to reach people who fled fighting in and around the town of Bor, but it also hopes to be able to shift back to some form of land transport, although that has been a challenge in itself as there are only some 300 kilometers of paved road across the country.

Air transport is expensive and could use up a huge portion of aid groups’ budgets, which means they would have less funds to respond to potentially urgent needs once the rainy season starts.

ACTED Country Director Emilie Poisson, meanwhile, explained that her organization relies mostly on the U.N.’s humanitarian air service managed by the World Food Program, but admitted the loss of supplies in December due to lootings and/or commandeering “has had significant impact on the rate and amount in which humanitarian partners should be prepared for prepositioning.”

‘Wait and see’

But apart from access and prepositioning goods, aid groups are also worried over the loss of many people’s livelihoods.

Oxfam Assistant Country Director Emma Jane Drew said her staff have encountered many people who had to sell entire herds of cattle or stockpiled harvest “just to be able to afford journeys to safety.”

“This is seriously worrying as it indicates displaced people will have nothing to go back to when they decide to return home. At the moment Oxfam’s assessing how we can best respond to those needs now,” Drew said.

These and the issues of impartiality — which was initially thrown at the United Nations, but has affected some humanitarian organizations — appear to continue to be huge impediments to the aid community’s work in South Sudan, even with the ceasefire in place.

Poisson noted: “Everyone is hopeful that [the ceasefire] would hold, but obviously everyone is also in a position of ‘wait and see’ for action to be implemented on the ground.”

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.