UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is warning today of the potentially devastating impact of a COVID19 outbreak in South Sudan. Years of conflict and a number of recent natural disasters have left many internally displaced people, refugees and host communities throughout the country struggling to meet their basic needs and now particularly vulnerable to the threat of COVID19.
“Years of violence have severely damaged South Sudan’s health services,” said Raouf Mazou, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Operations. “After last year’s floods and the recent locust swarm, people are struggling. Together with the threat of COVID19, this is a perfect storm that may lead to potentially terrible consequences for millions of people living in already precarious situations, if the virus rapidly spreads.”
To date, there have been 35 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in South Sudan. Many of the 1.7 million internally displaced people in the country are living in crowded, collective sites where they face poor sanitary conditions and limited or no access to health facilities.
Many of the country’s health facilities have been damaged or destroyed during years of fighting. Those remaining lack sufficient medicines, qualified health professionals and medical equipment.
UNHCR and its partners continues to work closely with South Sudanese authorities to ensure forcibly displaced populations are included in the country’s national COVID19 preparedness and response plan. We have constructed five emergency treatment centres to support this effort, with five more set to be built in the coming weeks. COVID19 prevention, awareness and control efforts are being put in place in all camps. Refugees and IDPs have been given extra rations of soap and additional buckets to help maintain hygiene. Outreach campaigns to spread awareness about COVID19 prevention and treatment are ongoing.
However, ongoing inter-communal clashes, together with measures intended to limit the spread of Coronavirus, such as restrictions on movement and goods, are creating signficiant challenges for humanitarian organisations to provide much-needed protection and aid to affected populations.
Fighting has left many people struggling to survive. A large proportion of the country’s rural population rely on their livestock and farms, which are often killed or damaged during the clashes, as their major source of income. This is worsening already dire levels of poverty, with many people having no access to social safety nets, at a time when the economic impact of COVID19 is increasing.
UNHCR echoes the appeal of the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for a global ceasefire. Warring parties in South Sudan must immediately cease hostilities, now, in these unprecedented circumstances, more than ever, to ensure people are able to access life-saving assistance. The good progress made following the 2018 Peace Deal must not stall. Momentum must continue on the pace and implementation of the agreement at this critical juncture in the country’s history.
Further support to UNHCR and other humanitarian organisations from the international community is urgently needed. Severe underfunding continues to hamper our efforts to save lives. However, support to the COVID19 response must not come at the price of neglecting pre-existing humanitarian needs.