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Logistical obstacles and the challenges of emergency food and agriculture responses in South Sudan
Even under the best of circumstances major logistical obstacles make it difficult for FAO to support humanitarian and development initiatives in South Sudan. Before the start of the crisis, FAO in South Sudan relied on a decentralized network of ten offices and 140 staff to navigate the country’s challenging combination of annual floods, limited storage capacity and a dearth of roads. Today, the team is working to reach millions of South Sudanese requiring emergency food, nutrition and livelihood support and the logistical obstacles loom even larger.
Due to insecurity, road and river transport costs have more than doubled in the past weeks while contractors are demanding escorts by security forces, putting extra strain on the already limited resources. With the rains expected to commence next month, supplies need to be prepositioned to ensure food security is not put further at risk. FAO and its partners are collaborating closely to identify safe common storage facilities, requesting assistance from UNMISS to minimize risks of looting.
FAO lost four warehouses. In Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity States pre-positioned tools, seeds and fishing equipment were looted. FAO is not alone; since the start of the conflict, the number of functioning aid agency warehouses has dramatically decreased from 72 to 48. The remaining hubs are located in areas less affected by the crisis, so the transfer of humanitarian supplies to the more affected states requires additional time and resources.
Road transport is the principle means of moving supplies around the country, but the road network in South Sudan is one of the worst in the world. The world’s newest country has only one paved road connecting the capital Juba with Nimule, on the border with Uganda. All other roads are dirt, up to two-thirds of which risk being submerged by floodwaters for up to half the year, effectively cutting off half of the country. “In South Sudan, we have to do twice as much work in half the time,” explains Sue Lautze, FAO Head of Office in South Sudan.
Aid agencies are also working to expand the use of river barges especially to Upper Nile and Jonglei State where sporadic clashes between government and non-government troops continue. River transport is particularly important for bulkier items, such as pre-fabricated offices, which FAO needs to ship to Malakal and Bor to re-establish the FAO state offices damaged in the fighting. New diesel water pumps for the women’s groups FAO had been supporting before the crisis also need to be shipped as soon as possible to restore production.
High costs limit the use of airlifts, but FAO is already gearing up for using air assets during the rainy season. FAO has re-designed its emergency livelihood kits so that these can be transported by helicopter if needed. “The emergency livelihood fishing kit as well as the kit for rapidly maturing vegetable seeds will be critical to help these populations cope with the triple burdens of conflict, displacement and flooding,” Sue Lautze adds.
Some 1.8 million people, including 300,000 internally displaced people, are at high risk of floods this year.