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World Humanitarian Day 2016: Staff profiles

Staff profiles: Rados - South Sudan

South Sudan faces one of the world’s worst humanitarian and food security situations. More than 2.4 million people have been displaced by violence since mid-December 2013. Around a third of South Sudanese are now food insecure and renewed violence threatens to derail the fragile peace process.

Despite continued constraints to humanitarian access, FAO is responding to urgent needs triggered by the crisis, while continuing vital livelihood protection and support programmes in less-affected states.

Rados CVETIC started as an intern with FAO in 2007 and is now the acting head of operations for the South Sudan office, where he has been working for the past three years. We spoke with Rados about the situation in South Sudan and his work.

What is your current role with FAO and what does it involve?
I am an operations officer, currently acting as head of the operations unit. My job is to operationally follow each project from the formulation phase to closure phase. To ensure corporate compliance, monitor the implementation against the activities and coordinate the activities with the various agriculture teams assigned to the project.

What motivated you to work in the humanitarian field?
My first contact with the NGO sector was when I was 18. I was volunteering with an NGO improving lives of children with disabilities in Serbia. Throughout my student years I was increasingly contributing to the activities of the NGO, and I found the results of my work and the work of the organization very motivating and fulfilling. That further guided me through my education and ultimately led me toward FAO.

Can you give an overview of the scope of the emergency and what you’ve seen on field missions throughout the country?
People of South Sudan are in continuous struggle with horrid weather conditions, various diseases affecting both humans and livestock, and tribal conflicts. They are regularly displaced and their livelihoods looted or lost. Some of them live in constant threat for their lives and suffer unimaginable daily stress. In the past three years the number of people that are struggling sustaining their households has drastically increased, which is very well presented in the IPC (Integrated Food Security Phase Classification) mapping done by FAO together with other agencies.

I managed personally to visit various locations where we’re implementing at the beginning of my assignment. What I noticed was that the communities were very resilient, even under extreme poverty conditions. However in many cases that was not enough. I have seen starving children skinny and weak, with little more than a bone and skin to cover it. Maybe for the lack of food or maybe for the various diseases that are difficult to cure in remote areas, and are easily contracted through lack of hygiene and use of polluted water.

Can you describe how the emergency/conflict has affected food security in the country? And what does that mean for the livelihoods of those that depend on agriculture?
The onset of the crisis caused mass displacement of people. Households were forced to run for their lives into the bushes leaving everything behind. Their planted fields, their livestock sometimes, their tools and other essentials that they were using to sustain their families. Some of those moved to POC (Protection of Civilians) sites, protected by UNMISS and managed by a designated organization, usually an NGO. There they would be provided with the basics to start over – shelter, food and basic medical care. Others would join their families or tribal communities to live in “host communities” and start over with their assistance. These communities then need to absorb significant pressure and additional needs. Their own livelihoods are being quite often challenged due to the increased need. And there are those that remain stranded, without a safe place to go to, sometimes stuck in the marshes and flooded land. In some cases their only hope for survival is humanitarian assistance.

How is FAO responding to the crisis?
FAO in South Sudan, through it’s very detailed and carefully developed Emergency Livelihood Response Plan, is prioritizing and mainly targeting those communities that are deemed most vulnerable at the given time. They are considered to be in IPC phase 3 (crisis) and 4 (emergency). Through rapid response, FAO managed to reach those in dire need of assistance, providing them with fishing nets and equipment, and vegetable seeds that can grow in 2-3 months. These were considered lifesaving in many occasions.

For the host communities, FAO has provided additional inputs for cultivation, including crops, vegetables, tools, fishing equipment and animal treatment. The inputs were delivered with technical trainings. Crops were sourced from local traders, thereby boosting the local economy and increasing the resilience of the communities.

What is the current focus of FAO’s emergency response in South Sudan?
FAO’s priorities at the moment are the most vulnerable households, in IPC phase 3 and 4. We are working hard on understanding the dynamics of the recently elevated crisis and coping with the losses suffered due to the looting. The IPC workshops are ongoing which will give us more accurate figures in terms of population needs.

What do farmers/pastoralists (or families that depend on agriculture for their livelihood) in South Sudan need most right now in terms of assistance?
This is a very difficult question. It really depends. Depends on the conflict dynamics. Those displaced and their host communities, they need basic inputs to start over. Same applies for those affected by floods.

For those that are settled and in peaceful environments, they need to increase their resilience. To diversify their diets and agriculture products. To preserve the surpluses and access markets where they can trade them for other goods. Therefore they may need post-harvest equipment and trainings, more advanced tools, and alternative production inputs.

Describe the location of where you work
Juba is the capital city of South Sudan. It is characterized by dirt roads, red soil and dust, crazy boda boda and matatu drivers, beautiful sunsets and many mosquitos.

What motivates you to work in the agriculture and food security sector?
Who doesn’t like having a good meal? Everyone should have the right to do so.

Can you share your most inspiring moment in humanitarian (FAO) work? i.e., in terms of work achievement in the country where you are, what have you been most proud about?
The FAO South Sudan office has a great team, that among all the many challenges that it has been facing, has managed to build a large programme, both emergency and development. It is the largest field programme of FAO for the past 3 years. Seeing the programme grow, and the acknowledgment of its success by many stakeholders (donors, government bodies, partners, beneficiaries) is truly inspiring and motivating to be a part of it.

One day I was out and about, and a man approached me, after seeing my UN ID. I was a bit surprised when he started talking about FAO, and how the work we are doing helped him, and his family. He was thankful and he praised God to help FAO continue its work. To me this particular moment, this encounter with an unknown random person on the street, meant a lot. It meant that our efforts and our 10 hours a day, six to seven days a week spent in the office means something.

What is it like working in an emergency environment/conflict environment?
Here are just some of things that describe what it’s like working in an emergency, and in particularly a conflict environment: restriction of movement, limited supply of basic commodities, continued stress, listening to the gun fire and staying in a safe place for hours, being ready to run if the situation requires, frequent travels, exposure to various diseases, strict deadlines; and very short time available for decision making. It is not easy, but it is rewarding in many ways.

What are the biggest challenges for you and how do you cope?
Restriction of movements and curfews can be tough on you after some time. Inability to socialize with friends and the feeling of imprisonment is heavy in the long run. There are different ways to cope with that. Finding a hobby (for me was cooking), socializing as much as possible with colleagues and friends, exercising regularly and so on.

What are the biggest challenges facing FAO in the location where you are?
Access is the main challenge in South Sudan. Roads are bad, and they get even worse during the rainy season. In addition there are many armed groups setting up check points on the roads taking whatever they can use. All this creates an extreme logistical challenge to move inputs to where they are needed. On occasions FAO South Sudan had to contract air transport to reach the remote areas inaccessible by road.

Working with a very limited communication infrastructure can be very frustrating at a time, when one has to communicate to 10 different states, and use many corporate services that rely on decent internet connection.

What is the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do on the job?
I don’t see anything related to work hard. Challenging maybe, when meeting deadlines and when working until late at night or morning. Fortunately this does not happen too often.