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Conflict causes major displacement and destruction of markets in South Sudan

  • Alert
  • South Sudan
  • January 8, 2014
Conflict causes major displacement and destruction of markets in South Sudan

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  • Summary
  • Situation

  • Summary
    Violent conflict and civil strife in South Sudan since mid-December, which have killed thousands and displaced approximately 190,000 people, is evolving into a major humanitarian crisis. Fighting between government of South Sudan and rebel forces has affected six out of 10 states, with conflict concentrated in the densely-populated eastern half of the country (Figure). In addition to the severe impact on the health and security of displaced and local populations, the recent conflict has disrupted the harvest and commodity flows in important trade corridors. Food insecurity among the worst-affected populations, particularly in Jonglei, Upper Nile, and Unity states, is likely at Crisis (IPC Phase 3) levels, or worse. Crisis and possibly Emergency (IPC Phase 4) levels of acute food insecurity are likely in the coming months if conflict and diminished food access persist.


    Prior to the conflict, South Sudan already faced high levels of acute food insecurity due to the precarious macroeconomic situation, widespread civil insecurity in Jonglei State and border areas, reduced trade and labor flows with Sudan, and a prevailing  environment of extreme poverty and lack of basic services. However, relations with Sudan, an important influence on South Sudan’s food security (particularly in northern border areas), appeared to be improving in late 2013. In late November, FEWS NET projected that food security would improve slightly following a likely average harvest, with Stressed (IPC Phase 2) levels in some of the country through March. As a result of the civil insecurity, and impacts on trade and the harvest, most of these assumptions have changed.

    The outbreak of fighting occurred midway through the main harvest. While the short-maturing sorghum harvest was nearly complete, the long-maturing sorghum harvest typically continues through January. Although the harvest in the surplus-producing Greenbelt area will likely not be affected, an average to below-average harvest overall is expected due to disruptions caused by conflict, particularly in Upper Nile and Unity States, combined with flood damages earlier in the season. In addition, internally displaced populations (IDPs) in conflict-affected areas abandoned all harvested stocks; they and other local populations are likely to face food shortages.

    Conflict has severely curtailed internal and cross-border trade flows. Jonglei, Upper Nile, and Unity states are most severely affected. Markets in Bor (Jonglei) and Malakal (Upper Nile) were completely destroyed. Markets in the capital, Juba, and in Bentiu (Unity) are operating at low levels. Limited quantities of goods continue to flow from Juba to western areas (Wau, Lakes, and Northern Bahr el Ghazal states), but flows to Jonglei, Unity, and Upper Nile are cut off, as most traders are unwilling to assume the security risks. The President’s declaration of a state of emergency has further restricted movement. Cross-border trade has declined, particularly from Sudan, as most foreign traders have fled. Over 1,000 Sudanese traders in Unity State lost their goods during fighting. Supplies from Ethiopia are also reduced as a main route through Nasir town is under rebel control. Trade flows from Uganda continue, but at reduced levels.

    The conflict is creating a regional refugee crisis and a humanitarian emergency for IDPs. Of the 190,000 IDPs, 62,000 people have sought refuge in UN bases. Active hostilities are challenging the provision of humanitarian assistance on the bases and in other IDP locations. The state of emergency has also impeded the response of aid agencies. Prior to the outbreak of conflict, South Sudan hosted about 230,000 refugees from Sudan (mostly South Kordofan and Blue Nile states) in Upper Nile and Unity states. Many aid agencies have begun to pull out staff from Pariang County (Unity) and Maban County (Upper Nile). As a precautionary measure, agencies distributed a three-month food ration to the refugees. Along with the concerns about refugee needs in country, thousands have left South Sudan for Uganda (13,000 people), Sudan (2,670 people), Ethiopia (5,290 people), and Kenya (1,650 people). Reports of refugees moving to Sudan from South Sudan are of particular concern, as they may be moving to areas with extreme food shortages due to conflict and a very poor harvest, limited access to basic health services, and severely reduced income opportunities.

    Food security in South Sudan is now threatened by expectations of a poor harvest in some areas, severely restricted access to markets and reduced market functioning, reduced grain flows from Sudan, Uganda, and Ethiopia, and very high levels of displacement. Near-term improvements in trade, labor opporunties, and population flows are unlikely. In addition, continued conflict and uncertainty related to control of South Sudan’s oil fields could jeopardize recent improvements in relations between Sudan and South Sudan. Due to a limited availability of information, FEWS NET is not able to provide detailed projections of food security outcomes at the household level at this time. However, FEWS NET estimates that food insecurity among the worst-affected populations, particularly in Jonglei, Upper Nile, and Unity states, is likely at Crisis (IPC Phase 3) levels or worse.  Over the coming months, Crisis and possibly Emergency (IPC Phase 4) levels of acute food insecurity are likely if conflict and its impacts on food access persist.

    Figures Areas affected by conflict and reported IDP concentrations

    Figure 1

    Areas affected by conflict and reported IDP concentrations

    Source: USAID/OFDA

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