Emergency & Humanitarian Response: South Sudan


Parts of South Sudan have been embroiled in a brutal conflict since December 2013 when a dispute between factions of the governing party escalated into armed aggression.  Although the causes of the conflict are complex and varied, the fighting has typically been reported as a struggle between the nation’s two largest ethnic groups – Dinka and Nuer, which mirrors the ethnicities of the two leaders in the conflict, President Salva Kiir and former vice president Riek Machar.   More than a year of peace talks in Addis Ababa and six signed agreements have yet to lead to a cessation of the fighting. Three states (Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile) are still directly affected by the war, while others are indirectly affected, primarily by large influxes of displaced people.

The Sudan Council of Catholic Bishops recently issued a statement imploring that “the war must stop immediately…[t]he political negotiations cannot continue with ‘business as usual’ while the killing continues…no political advantage is worth killing more innocent civilians, nor even killing soldiers.”[1] Atrocities are known to have occurred during the conflict, and violence against the most vulnerable, especially  women, has been widely reported, with allegations of abuse by civilian and military perpetrators from both sides of the conflict, occurring both inside and outside of Protection of Civilian (POC) sites. A Commission of Inquiry Report documenting such abuses has been developed but not yet released.[2]

Following decades of civil war between Sudan and South Sudan, the conflict affected areas were already extremely under-developed, and the population largely consists of subsistence farmers and pastoralists. In the face of continued conflict, many farmers did not plant crops in 2014 and have depleted their limited coping mechanisms.  Many people continue to be at risk of famine. In addition, the country is in deep economic decline due to falling oil prices.  

In the year since the crisis began there has been a massive humanitarian response, with 4.8 million people reached,[3] despite an extremely difficult operating environment, including  insecurity, military regulation, lack of paved roads, and extreme weather conditions.

CRS’ Policy Recommendations:

Based on our experience in the field and communications from the local Church, CRS recommends that the U.S. Government undertake the following:

  1. Deploy all options to reach a peace agreement that is respected by both parties, the only way to end the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan. This must include a full diplomatic response that robustly engages both sides in the peace talks to achieve a good faith agreement and prevents conditions from further deteriorating. Any solutions must also include civil society, traditional and religious leaders in discussions about the future of the country, such as transitional government and the way forward. 
  1. Continue to robustly fund humanitarian assistance and encourage other donors to contribute funding to alleviate a worsening humanitarian situation. With around 2 million displaced, and more than 2.5 million in need of food assistance, humanitarian access continues to be difficult in some areas and is again threatened as roads dry up and conflict resumes. As the Government of South Sudan faces its own economic decline, additional funding, including from non-traditional donors, will be essential to meet the $1.8 billion appeal for South Sudan. 
  1. Work with the international community to protect civilians and stop the violence. South Sudan faces a growing culture of impunity with alarming accounts of violence against women and ethnic tensions continuing. The U.S. must support and hold accountable the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to meet its mandate to protect civilians through conflict monitoring, and help to ensure forces are adequately equipped and logistically supported. Mechanisms must be utilized to ensure that those who are spoiling the peace process or perpetrating human rights violations are held accountable. 
  1. Fund conflict mitigation, healing and peacebuilding activities, as well as other long-term development activities. Peacebuilding must be a priority for the government, the Church and humanitarian organizations if South Sudan is to achieve a sustainable peace settlement. The U.S should support existing peace and reconciliation structures in South Sudan, such as the Committee for National Healing, Peace and Reconciliation, to develop and implement an integrated, long-term vision and strategy for an indigenous-led approach to a sustainable peace. Likewise, development activities should continue where possible so that development gains made over the past years are not lost.