South Sudan: “We have seen things stabilize or even improve”

28 June, 2013
Women attend an adult learning programme at a primary school in Yei, near South Sudan's border with Uganda. An overall improvement to the humanitarian situation in South Sudan has led to humanitarian agencies slightly reducing their appeal for 2013. Credit: IRIN/Hannah McNeish
Women attend an adult learning programme at a primary school in Yei, near South Sudan's border with Uganda. An overall improvement to the humanitarian situation in South Sudan has led to humanitarian agencies slightly reducing their appeal for 2013. Credit: IRIN/Hannah McNeish

A harvest that was better than expected, and fewer refugees and returnees than expected, have contributed to an overall improvement in the situation in South Sudan and have allowed the humanitarian community to reduce its appeal for funding by 9 per cent. At the beginning of 2013, aid agencies in South Sudan called for $1.16 billion. This has been revised to $1.05 billion, with $485 million still needed for the remainder of 2013.

In this interview, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, Toby Lanzer, says that although the situation in some parts of the country has improved, insecurity in Jonglei State and the approaching rainy season pose significant challenges to communities and the agencies trying to help them.

Q. Why have you decreased the amount you are appealing for? Has the situation in South Sudan really changed so much in six months?

When we launched the appeal in November last year, we expected that the trends that we saw in 2012 would continue at about the same pace into 2013. However, in the first half of this year we have seen things stabilize or even improve in some areas.

4.5 million
people in need

2.2 million
people to receive food assistance

224,000
refugees

59,000
internally displaced since start of 2013
38,000
returnees from Sudan so far in 2013
$1.05 billion
needed for 2013

The number of violence-related incidents has declined, fewer refugees have arrived, and fewer South Sudanese returnees have made the journey home. The number of people who are food insecure has also dropped from 4.6 million people in 2012 to 4.1 million now, thanks to a better-than-expected harvest in 2012 and the work of humanitarian and development organizations.

But even with these improvements, and even though we have lowered our appeal, there are still many people who need help. Based on a thorough and evidence-based assessment, the humanitarian community in South Sudan needs another $485 million this year to assist three million people.

Q. The situation in Jonglei State seems to be worsening and aid agencies are struggling to access affected communities. Do you see this situation improving?

The situation in Jonglei, specifically in Pibor and Pochalla counties, is worrying and is in stark contrast to the improvements we have seen elsewhere since the beginning of the year.

We are working hard with the government to improve our access to people who need help. Thanks to an allocation from the Central Emergency Response Fund, we now have two helicopters dedicated to our Jonglei response, which will help us reach communities in need. We have also pre-positioned aid supplies throughout Jonglei to make sure we are ready and able to respond throughout the rainy season.

Meanwhile, we are calling on all parties involved in the fighting to meet their obligations to protect civilians and ensure that humanitarian agencies can deliver aid without constraints. This is a high priority for all of us in the aid community.

Q. The rainy season has started. What impact will this have on the humanitarian situation in places like Jonglei, and what have agencies done to prepare for it?

First of all: the rainy season is an opportunity as well as a challenge. South Sudan’s farmers need good rains to overcome the large cereal deficit which has rendered about a third of the population food insecure. 

But we are also aware that every rainy season, floods cut off about 60 per cent of the country’s roads and just over a quarter of its population. The logistical constraints also increase costs as organizations are forced to fly supplies into remote areas

With better planning this year, I hope that these extra costs will be avoided. By May, humanitarian partners had pre-positioned 80 per cent of the supplies needed for the year in Juba, state capitals and deep-field locations, to make sure they have the resources to get communities through the wet season.

Q. How optimistic are you that you will get the funding required for the next six months?

In the first six months of the year, we received $567 million from donors – about 54 per cent of requirements for 2013. We need a further $485 million to meet our targets for the rest of the year.

The fact that our appeal has been reduced does not mean that donor support is no longer required. On the contrary, the humanitarian operation in South Sudan’s remains one of the largest in the world.

We believe that we represent a good investment for donors. In the first six months of this year, partners were able to implement about 90 per cent of their plans for that period, despite some of the access issues I have mentioned.

We call on our donors to continue their support so that people get the assistance and protection they need, on time. Getting aid right in South Sudan does more than just that. It can make an important contribution to development and indeed overall stability. I really hope donors rally to that cause.

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For more information about humanitarian and development issues in South Sudan, follow Toby Lanzer on Twitter @tobylanzer