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Author: Blandine Sixdenier

Blandine Sixdenier
Researcher on South Sudan and the Central African Republic

South Sudan: when it rains, it pours

Blandine Sixdenier
Blandine Sixdenier | April 26, 2017

South Sudan is in the midst of the first famine declared in the world since 2011. Brought on as a result of conflict and drought, more than 100,000 people face starvation and a further one million are at risk. While the rainy season should provide the opportunity for farmers to plant crops for the coming year, in South Sudan it brings a host of humanitarian challenges for both aid workers and the population.

Hospital vehicle pulled from the mud. Albert Gonzalez Farran / ICRC

No more access

The rainy season is expected to start in May and last until October. While more than 7 million South Sudanese require lifesaving assistance, including 40% of the population who are in need of urgent food, the rainy season will make it harder for aid workers to provide help and for the population to reach aid centres.

With only a couple of kilometres of paved roads, travelling in South Sudan is extremely challenging and time-consuming. Even in the dry season, a 500 km trip takes around a week to complete.

Heavy rainfalls render most roads and airstrips impassable, leaving two thirds of the country unreachable. As a result, access to vulnerable people will be impeded and entire communities will be cut off of the rest of the country, including those most affected by the food crisis. Humanitarian organizations are currently racing to stockpile food in these communities before the rainy season begins.

Not only will humanitarian workers struggle to reach the population, many South Sudanese themselves will have to walk for hours in the mud before finding aid facilities.

Pawel Krzysiek / ICRC

Waterborne disease – the perfect storm

The rainy season also provides a fertile ground for the spread of waterborne diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea.

Clean water as well as good sanitation are essential to prevent the outbreak of diseases. Nearly 5 million South Sudanese do not have access to clean water. Sanitation facilities are almost non existent forcing 74% of the population to defecate in the open. A cholera outbreak was declared earlier this year, for the third time in a row.

The lack of sanitation and health facilities, coupled with the flooding, has proven to be deadly for many South Sudanese in previous rainy seasons, especially in overcrowded displaced persons’ camps and urban centres. Flooding indeed further increases the risk of contamination of water sources and consequently diseases, while overcrowded areas facilitate their transmission.

Daniel Littlejohn / ICRC

How the ICRC is responding

Although the outlook in South Sudan is bleak, support for the people of South Sudan does exist. iguacu’s recommended charity the ICRC has been present in South Sudan since 1986 and is well-prepared to continue providing critical help during the rainy season.

The ICRC has a great capacity to reach out to the population. During the dry season, the ICRC relies on airdrops to distribute help in remote areas.  In March, the ICRC distributed food to over 20,000 people in Jonglei state. With the rainy season rending airstrips unusable, the ICRC will dispatch its helicopters and hence pursue their vital relief work nationwide.

In addition to their emergency response to the food crisis, the ICRC focuses on longer-term strategies to eradicate hunger in South Sudan. Ahead of the rainy season, the ICRC distributed seeds and tools to some 200,000 South Sudanese throughout the country, allowing them to grow and plant their crops for the new season.

The ICRC also works all year long to improve access to safe-drinking water and healthcare. In 2016, the ICRC restored 19 water facilities and conducted more than 140,000 outpatient consultations.

With the acute food crisis and the cholera epidemic, the rainy season will certainly be deadlier than in years before. As soon as July this year, more than 5 million South Sudanese are expected to be suffering from food insecurity.

On a positive note, violence should decrease as the rainy season makes it harder for armed groups to move. In the meantime, the ICRC will continue in all conditions to support those in great need.

 

After Matthew: is Haiti on its feet?

Blandine Sixdenier
Blandine Sixdenier | March 13, 2017

On October 16th 2016, Haiti was hit by Hurricane Matthew, resulting in more than 900 dead and widespread devastation and displacement in the South. Haiti was already suffering from a humanitarian and political crisis following the 2010 earthquake as well as a cholera outbreak and a prolonged drought. So where are we now?

Haiti on Election Day

Photo: OAS, Flickr

What’s working

The election of Jovenel Moise in November 2016 ended a long cycle of political turmoil. First held in October 2015, the presidential elections were postponed several times and the original results annulled due to widespread violence and accusations of mass fraud. As a result, President Moise’s inauguration in February 2017 marked a turning point. Political stability is an essential condition for Haiti to meet its development goals and address its economic, social and humanitarian challenges.

The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH, has noted improvements in the security situation over the past months. The UN Under-Secretary-General for peacekeeping operations announced on February 9th 2017 that the withdrawal of MINUSTAH’s military component was likely in the near future. After 13 years, its disengagement would allow Haiti to take over the control of its own public security. This would be a great step towards sustainable recovery and development.

The tenure of the Port-au-Prince International Jazz Festival is another sign of Haiti’s recovery. The 4th edition was cancelled in 2010 due to the earthquake. Yet, four months after Hurricane Matthew, artists from around the world will gather to celebrate Jazz music in Haiti.

Photo: Logan Abassi , UN Photo, Flickr

The challenges

Despite these notable improvements, Haiti remains in a fragile state. While the country was still recovering from the 2010 quake, Hurricane Matthew wiped out much of the progress made in the South where there had been a decrease in extreme poverty. In the areas most affected by Matthew, villages and farms were completely destroyed and almost all crops were lost.

Matthew impacted over 2 million people and left a further 1.4 million in need of lifesaving assistance. Today, more than 1 million Haitians face hunger. The health situation is dire and the international community fears a surge in the cholera epidemic. Over 8,000 new cases were reported in just one month in November 2016. Diphtheria is also on the rise.

In addition, numerous women are at risk of forced labour and human trafficking. In February, the police saved 33 girls, some as young as 13, from being sold by traffickers. Children are also exposed to exploitation and abuse. Low income families and unaccompanied children are often sent to wealthier families to be fed and educated in exchange for light chores. Yet, it is a common fate for these children to be used as domestic slaves.

Haiti is also facing a crisis with returnees from the Dominican Republic. Between June 2015 and January 2017, almost 170,000 people arrived in Haiti from the Dominican Republic. Haiti lacks the capacity and infrastructure to handle massive arrivals. Consequently, many returnees live in makeshift camps in miserable conditions, and are at risk of statelessness.

Photo: PresidenciaRD, Flickr

Photo: PresidenciaRD, Flickr

Ways forward

To tackle the acute crisis, the Humanitarian Community requested almost US$ 300 million (Humanitarian Response Plan).

While Haiti relies on NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to provide basic services to its population, the Humanitarian Response Plan was designed to deliver both immediate lifesaving assistance and rapid recovery measures. These measures, such as the rehabilitation of homes or the promotion of small rural businesses, aim at strengthening Haiti’s resilience. This would pave the way for long-term development and strengthen Haiti’s capacities to cope with future humanitarian challenges.

So far, the Plan is less than 10% funded. Haiti needs strong commitments from international donors to ensure stability and exit the cycle of humanitarian dependency.  

Four months after Hurricane Matthew, Haiti is slowly recovering. Despite notable progress, Haiti still needs international attention and continued support. With the help of the Humanitarian Response Plan, Haiti will be able to make some strides towards sustainable recovery and development by strengthening its resilience.

5 key challenges extraordinary aid workers face in the Central African Republic

Blandine Sixdenier
Blandine Sixdenier | March 8, 2017

Photo: BORIS HEGER, ICRC

One of the most dangerous places on the African continent, the Central African Republic remains in a fragile state today. Despite often hostile working conditions, relief workers continue to provide lifesaving assistance to many Central Africans. Aid workers in CAR face five major challenges:

Challenge 1. Security

While significant improvements were made to pave the way for lasting peace, including successful elections, the Central African Republic is plagued by instability. Although violence varies by region, the security situation deteriorated again in the second half of 2016 with armed groups striking throughout the country. Today, around 14 armed groups operate nationwide and fight over the control of resources.

Despite their humanitarian nature, NGOs have not been spared by armed groups’ and have been targeted since the beginning of the conflict. In 2016, more than 330 attacks were carried out against relief organisations, resulting in the death of 5 aid workers.

Twenty-four humanitarian workers have been killed since 2013.

Although direct threats are posed to their lives, and their facilities looted, relief workers continue to pursue their activities nationwide. More than 50 international NGOs and 65 national NGOs are currently present in CAR, conducting operations in some of the country’s most dangerous places to ensure the millions of Central Africans in need are not abandoned.

 

Challenge 2. Scale of humanitarian need

The entire population has been affected by the conflict. Today, 2.2 million people, roughly half of the population, are in need of humanitarian assistance to meet their basic needs.

The health system is almost non-existent, drinking water is scarce, 2 million people face hunger, 2 million people need protection from armed groups’ violence and living conditions in refugees or displaced persons camps are deplorable.

Malaria, which is treatable, is currently the leading cause of death.

Sexual and gender-based violence is widespread affecting thousands of women and girls.

The government, already weak prior to the conflict, does not have the capacity to respond to the humanitarian crisis. Three years after the beginning of the conflict, Central Africans rely on NGOs to access basic services, leaving aid organisations with a colossal job to do. In 2016, more than 60 humanitarian organizations were focused on protection, 60 plus on food security and 37 on health.

Yet, due to ongoing violence, vulnerable people cannot always benefit from lifesaving assistance.

 

Photographer : ELENA ARANZ ARANZ, ICRC

Challenge 3. Lack of infrastructure

Another obstacle humanitarian workers face is the lack of infrastructure. Outside Bangui, many parts of the country are very difficult to access and isolated. With a territory slightly bigger than France and nearly 5 million inhabitants, CAR’s population density is low and concentrated in the west and south of the country.

Transportation infrastructure is poorly-maintained. Most roads are not paved, many bridges are unusable and networks between cities are underdeveloped. The country has no railroads, internal flights are rare and depend on the security situation. Traveling from one city to another is time-consuming. The rainy season, from April to October, further renders traveling difficult, if not impossible in some areas.

Also, due to the presence of armed groups and road bandits, humanitarian workers have to travel in convoys.

This situation affects both the operation of NGOs’ deployment throughout the country and responsiveness when new hotspots emerge.

 

Challenge 4. Lack of finance

In January, the government and the humanitarian community launched a two year plan, requesting almost US$400 million to finance humanitarian actions for the year 2017.

Making a substantial difference to the situation in CAR requires long-term commitments and the attention and support of the global public. With other humanitarian crises erupting throughout the world, the Central African Republic is at risk of fading from the international agenda, as so often before. This would impact the funding of humanitarian organizations and have disastrous consequences for the population.

In 2016, only 37% of the funding requirements to meet humanitarian need was met. One of the consequences of this shortfall was shortages in humanitarian supplies. For instance, the World Food Program, instead of targeting 1 million people, was able to help only 400,000 people and had to cut its food rations by half.

 

Challenge 5. Lack of information

Last but not least, gathering real-time information is extremely difficult. Outside Bangui and other large city centres, cell-phone and internet networks are almost non-existent.

In 2015, only 30% of the population had a subscription to a mobile phone and 4% of the population was using internet. As a result, knowing exactly what is happening in one village takes time which can delay the potential humanitarian response in case of crisis.

Unknown to most people, despite often extreme and hostile conditions, the humanitarian actors in CAR help hold this country together. The long-suffering people of CAR and the incredible community who support them need more of us to take notice and take action.

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Key sources (in French)

MSF suspends its activities in PK5 (Bangui) for 7 days

Surge in violence: the UN calls on armed groups not to obstruct humanitarian access

Without urgent funding, the World Food Program would have to suspend its help to thousands displaced people

Bringing stability to CAR: using emergency public service and infrastructure projects to promote post-crisis recovery