South Sudan - 2020 year-end report - Issues and Challenges


The political landscape and operational environment in South Sudan remained complex in 2020 and pre-existing humanitarian needs were further compounded by localized violence, floods and the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The implementation of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) signed by the warring parties in September 2018 has been slow. Although steps forwards have been made in the formation of the Unity Government and in the appointment of State Governors in 2020, delays still remain impacting on the socio-political situation. While parties have largely agreed on state-level power sharing arrangements, the nominations of local authorities are yet to be made, the Transitional National Legislative Assembly is yet to be reconstituted and little progress has been made on the transitional security arrangements.

The security situation remains fragile with instances of sub-national violence occurring in several states, including Central Equatoria, Warrap and Jonglei, resulting in further displacements of civilians throughout 2020. Relative security in other parts of the country has enabled UNHCR to operate with minimal interruptions and offers a cautiously optimistic outlook in terms of solutions to displacement.

Between August and December 2020, major flooding along the Nile caused destruction of property, infrastructure, crops and displaced people including in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile States, impacting humanitarian delivery to flood-affected area and triggering the need for an emergency response to address the most urgent needs of those displaced.

2020 was marked by the global COVID-19 outbreak. In South Sudan, the direct impact of the pandemic among people of concern has been limited, with relatively low numbers confirmed cases. This could, however, change as a significant increase in community-level transmission has been observed in early 2021, and as the population struggles to observe physical distancing in a context where camps and settlements are over-crowded, and many families rely on daily wage labour to meet their basic needs. Notwithstanding, the indirect socioeconomic impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the refugee population and others of concern has exacerbated pre-existing protection risks and vulnerabilities. This has required UNHCR and its partners to scale up COVID-19 preparedness and response in particular in refugee-hosting areas to ensure that necessary prevention measures (water, sanitation and hygiene in camps, infection prevention and control in facilities) are boosted and readiness of health facilities and medical workers is ramped up.

The measures put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 such as movement restrictions, limitations on public gatherings and school closures have also impacted on UNHCR’s activities and targets initially planned and required substantial implementation modality adjustments for others. Examples of impacted activities include the suspension of the relocation of Yida residual caseload refugees to Jamjang camps between March and July 2020, reduction in capacity building activities. The expected number of UNHCR-supported IDPs returns to places of origin or choice was significantly lower than initially projected, largely owing to inter-state movement limitations.

Another development that was not initially anticipated in the form of assumption is the transition of internally displaced persons from the Protection of Civilians (PoC) sites secured by UNMISS to conventional IDP sites under jurisdiction of the government. This process was initiated in September 2020. By the end-of the year (2020), 3 out of 5 PoC sites had transitioned. This has posed several real or perceived protection concerns for IDP residents in relation to security, access to justice and rule of law, and required substantive UNHCR involvement to ensure centrality of protection.