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South Sudan: Rising coronavirus cases coincide with start of lean season

Photo: Lucy Beck/CARE
Photo: Lucy Beck/CARE

(Juba, May 14, 2020) – As South Sudan has seen a spike in the number of coronavirus cases over the past two weeks, with numbers rising to 174 as of May 11, the population of the world’s youngest country is also facing potential risks with the upcoming lean season. This, combined with intercommunal fighting and locust invasions in parts of the country, is likely to push millions into even more extreme food insecurity and makes them more vulnerable to water-borne and other diseases.

Mercy Laker, CARE South Sudan Deputy Country Director-Programs says: “This pandemic is also coinciding with the start of the lean season in South Sudan. There is still a real worry that the measures taken to suppress the spread of coronavirus run the risk of disrupting livelihood activities, delaying access to food assistance, and placing additional strain on poor households’ abilities to buy food, seeds and other essentials. They risk having a particularly bad effect on the urban poor and those living in displacement sites.”

Over 6 million people – over half the population – are currently suffering from severe food insecurity. This is the worst the country has seen since its independence in 2011. The recent UN Global Report on Food Crises ranked South Sudan among one of the five countries most at risk of famine in 2020.

Laker says: “For a population that depends heavily on humanitarian aid it is also very difficult to tell people to stay in their homes, because if they do, they will starve to death,” she adds, “in the long term as well we are extremely worried how this coronavirus will affect people’s ability to farm and cultivate, which may push even more people into acute food insecurity and have devastating effects on malnutrition levels.”

Most recent food security analysis shows that estimates for planting, in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, are likely to be lower than 2019, while food prices will increase by up to 50% on 2019 prices. On top of this other income sources such as day labour and international remittances are already being affected by COVID-19 restrictions. Further locust swarms are also predicted in June that will decrease agricultural production further, potentially affecting tens of thousands of people. Previous lean season predictions of people suffering from food insecurity were around 6.48 million; with all these added elements this number could be significantly higher with some people slipping into famine-like conditions.

CARE carries out monthly food distributions to some 10,000 people in Pariang as well as programmes that link emergency food security with longer term livelihoods; providing seeds, agricultural tools, fishing equipment, tree saplings, and cash and vouchers assistance (CVA) to communities, as well as facilitating Voluntary Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs) in areas where formal banking systems have shut down; allowing people to access an alternative source of capital and improve savings.

South Sudan is considered a very high-risk country for a coronavirus outbreak; with over 7.5 million people currently in need of humanitarian assistance to survive and 60% of the population dependant on food aid. The ongoing humanitarian crisis makes infection prevention and control particularly challenging.

“Across South Sudan there are 1.5 million people internally displaced with about 214,000 of people living in Protection of Civilian sites, which are overcrowded enclosed spaces, and are particularly at risk. In addition, refugee camps in Ruweng Administrative Area and other parts of the country adds to challenges of enforcing social distancing,” adds Laker.

CARE currently runs 24 health facilities in Western Bahr el Ghazal, Jonglei and Unity states including and four mobile health clinics in some of the most underserved counties of Eastern Equatoria State. As an active member of the National COVID-19 steering committee, CARE’s COVID response plan focuses on three pillars of the National response plan including; case management, risk communication and community mobilization, and community surveillance.

According to Laker: “As a young country the health system in South Sudan still runs on a shoestring budget predominantly contributed by development partners with minimal infrastructure, equipment of even human resource required for an effective COVID-19 response. CARE’S response in South Sudan is inevitably very focused on prevention to avoid a situation where services and the health infrastructure becomes overwhelmed. But this too is challenging with such limited access to testing. At the same time, we are constantly innovating ways to enable our frontline staff to continue delivering lifesaving healthcare by for example, a three-shift day to reduce the pressure, who even without a large number of cases are at risk of exhaustion. So, it is terrifying to imagine what will happen if this turns into a huge outbreak like in some other countries.”

CARE in South Sudan
CARE’s work in what later became South Sudan began in 1979. Our in-country strategy and programming bridges the spectrum between humanitarian assistance to long-term recovery and development by responding to emergency needs, while building the resilience of the communities within the current situation to withstand possible future crisis (conflict or natural disasters). In parallel, CARE works to strengthen systems, institutions and civil society to support long-term change.


Media contact: Kalei Talwar

Press Officer

email: kalei.talwar@care.org | skype: kalei.talwar

cell: +1 808-381-6901

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