As thousands flee South Sudan every day, donors must shell out more than
just hollow promises
Posted on November 29, 2016 by Tendai Marima
In Uganda, transit centres are massively over-crowded and rations are
thinly stretched. Moreover, unless more support is provided, things will
only get worse as more refugees arrive.
Every single day, thousands more people are fleeing South Sudan and
crossing into neighbouring Uganda, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of
Congo and Sudan.
According to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), the seemingly endless conflict
in South Sudan has now led to over 1.26 millionrefugees, with many more
internally displaced.Yet despite the extent of this deepening crisis, the
humanitarian response remains poorly funded.
An estimated 7.5 million people in South Sudan and neighbouring countries
are in desperate need of humanitarian aid. But currently, just 25% of the
at least $600 million required in 2016 has been raised.
Since the outbreak of South Sudan’s civil war in December 2013, over $200
million in urgent support has been received from the Central Emergency
Revolving Fund (CERF), a $450 million resource created by the UN to help
provide a swift response to crises around the world.
But with so many global emergencies ongoing, resources are spread thin and,
often, newer crises are prioritised.
At the same time, millions of dollars have been pledged by international
donors at various South Sudan donor conferences, but only a fraction of
this has actually been received. NGOs have long urged the development of a
mechanism that holds pledgers to account, but the reality is that
contributions remain voluntary.“We are really going to suffer”
Poor financing has led to severe cuts in refugee support on the ground,
particularly in Uganda which hosts the largest number of exiled South
Sudanese. For instance, as thousands more refugees fled into Uganda daily
after the South Sudanese conflict broke out again this July, the World Food
Program (WFP) and UNHCR in Uganda had to announce a 50% cut in food rations
and cash assistance.
This combination of new arrivals and cuts has deeply reduced the support
available to individual refugees. For example, Hassan Kuku fled South Sudan
in January 2014 and found refuge in Boroli Settlement in Adjumani, Uganda.
His rations were already stretched, but when the conflict reignited this
year, Kuku’s brother and family joined him. Rations which were intended for
one household are now shared between two.“Before we were able to manage
with the little we had, but now our family has grown. We are thirteen, but
the cake we’re sharing is for six. We are really going to suffer if they
cut [portions] again,” he says.
Indeed, although ration cuts were meant to ensure newer arrivals would get
food, some more recent refugees claim they struggled to get any rations at
Susan Jua, an elderly woman whose family of six escaped to Uganda four
months ago, says she didn’t receive any food whatsoever during the first
three months in Pagarinya Settlement, a camp setup in July and which hosts
now more than 22,000 new arrivals.
Although the family now receives a monthly allocation of grains and pulses,
Jua says it is barely enough. “I don’t know if I’m a refugee or what
because we don’t have even enough food to eat here,” she says. “Before, in
Makberi [near the White Nile River on the Ugandan border], food was never a
problem, but now we can’t get anything.”
Moreover, budgets have been cut back so significantly that when new
arrivals get food assistance, it’s in the form of the local
staple posho and flavourless beans. These are often cooked with nothing
else, including even cooking oil or salt. The meal may provide some
nutritional value, but when refugee stays in transit centres last for
months, eating posho and beans daily without other nutrients, can pose
significant health risks.
Uganda’s refugee services are buckling under the pressure of dealing with
more than 500,000 refugees from South Sudan alone.
The country’s transit centres were originally intended as a short stopover
before permanent settlement, but refugees often live in poor, overcrowded
conditions for long periods.At a peak point in the crisis in August,
Nyumanzi Transit Center held more than 18,000 people for weeks even though
it’s designed to accommodate a maximum of 2,500.
These high numbers caused a severe backlog in the resettlement of refugees
and over 3,000 people had lived almost four months beyond the 3-day
standard before its temporary closure in October.
Elegu collection centre, an alternative receiving point in the
north-eastern district, has been similarly over-stretched. A compound there
equipped to hold 1,000 people can sometimes be filled to ten times its
In October, an average of 2,400 people fled from South Sudan into Uganda
each day, and if this continues, 150,000 more refugees can be expected by
the end of the year. Like those before them, these new arrivals will
require life-saving assistance. But on a limited budget, efforts will be
Cheryl Harrison, Deputy Country Director of WFP Uganda, says the agency
faces an $18 million funding shortfall up till March 2017, though if
numbers of those fleeing continue to grow, she warns the situation could be
even worse. In recent months, the amount the WFP said it needed to provide
for refugees soared from $7 million/month to $12 million/month due to the
unabating flow of new arrivals.
Time to keep promises
South Sudan’s neighbouring states have made important efforts in attempting
to accommodate refugees, but the fact that the burden of hosting over a
million people has fallen on some of the poorest countries in the world is
The influx of refugees to the likes of Uganda has put a huge strain on
already stretched resources such as land, water and healthcare.This means
that, like many other neglected emergencies around the world, the
humanitarian response to South Sudan’s refugee crisis desperately needs
much more money from international donors.
With the welfare of millions of people scattered within and across the
five-year-old nation’s borders hanging in the balance, hollow promises will
Tendai Marima is a freelance journalist and academic researcher who
travelled to Uganda with the International Women’s Media Foundation on
reporting fellowship to visit the refugee settlements in the northern
Find her on Twitter @i_amten.
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