Supporting South Sudanese refugees in Sudan: the DFID response

When the second famine of the 21st century was declared in South Sudan in February, the world took notice of the increasingly dire situation in many parts of the country. But the crisis has regional impacts, too, which have affected Sudan. Until 2011 Sudan and South Sudan were the same country, and they still have close links. As the crisis worsens in South Sudan, the impacts in Sudan are increasingly serious.

Sudan now hosts over 400,000 South Sudanese refugees. Since the start of 2017, more than 137,000 refugees have arrived in Sudan from South Sudan — compared to 120,000 who arrived in the whole of 2016. Many of them have walked for ten days or more to reach safety. They arrive ill, weak and malnourished. Providing immediate help, in the form of food, shelter and medical care, is essential to saving lives.

In a large influx, like the one we are facing now, it is enormously difficult to provide life-saving support to everyone. This is particularly true in a country like Sudan, which is the third-largest country in Africa, and when many of the refugees arrive in isolated areas where transport is difficult. Ongoing conflict in Darfur and South Kordofan, both areas where refugees are arriving, complicate things still further.

Even in such difficult circumstances, we are working to ensure people get the help they need, when they need it. Pre-positioning relief goods through the advance purchase and storage of tarpaulins, sleeping mats and jerry cans, saves both time and money in a crisis. A study funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and carried out by Boston Consulting Group, UNICEF and the World Food Programme found that pre-positioning relief goods delivers a return on investment of between 1.6 and 2.0, and saves between 14 and 21 days compared to waiting for the crisis to happen.

UKaid-funded kits containing essential non-food items being unloaded/arranged in White Nile State, Sudan

With conflict worsening in South Sudan, and famine looming as a result, a large number of new arrivals in 2017 were expected. However, UNHCR did not have sufficient goods in country to meet needs in their worst-case scenario. Based on this evidence, in December 2016 DFID granted UNHCR sufficient funding to provide essential non-food items for more than 40,000 families — around 200,000 people. Newly arrived families will receive plastic sheeting, blankets, synthetic sleeping mats, kitchen sets, jerry cans and mosquito nets.

This was a risk — if fewer people arrived than expected, the investment could have been wasted. But events showed that this was the right decision. Arrivals in the first months of 2017 exceeded even UNHCR’s worst-case scenario, with continued high levels throughout the year. The goods funded by DFID arrived in the country in early February 2017 and were available for distribution by March. Without this, UNHCR could have risked a dangerous gap in supplies, putting newly-arrived refugees at risk.

DFID is continuing to work with our partners to develop our response, meeting both immediate and longer-term needs of refugees and host communities.