Crisis Impacts on Households in Unity State, South Sudan, 2014-2015 - Initial Results of a Survey, January 2016


Analysis of the impacts of crises is important for ensuring that humanitarian action is principled, targeted and effective, and that protection is afforded based on specific vulnerabilities. Documenting the impact of war is also important for recovery processes, including accountability, reconciliation and healing. However, due to the combination of violent conflict and disruptions to humanitarian operations, there has been insufficient information about a range shocks on households (HHs) in some parts of South Sudan.

To contribute to the growing body of evidence about the impacts of the crisis, in November and December 2015, a survey of 2,150 HHs explored the impacts of shocks in Unity State, South Sudan.
The communities surveyed were located in villages, swamps, forests and floating islands in five counties, as well as the United Nations Protection of Civilian Site (POC) in Bentiu, Unity State. The survey was undertaken in both Government- and opposition-controlled areas. Many communities were remote and insecure. The most extreme sites required 24-hour journeys by canoe or walking to reach.

The survey was undertaken when there was no access for humanitarian operations in many of the survey areas. As with any survey conducted in remote, difficult and high risk areas, compromises were made that could affect the both the reliability and validity of the findings. The limitations of the survey approach, including sources of possible bias, are noted in the methodology section of this report.

The survey was managed by the Office of the Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan with support from partners.

• The sustained combination of violence, population displacement, asset losses and restrictions on access by humanitarians and peacekeepers has had grave implications. At the end of the 2014 rainy season, the communities surveyed had an estimated total population of 263,864 (µ± 2,025). This approximates one-fourth of the population of Unity State. One year later, the populations had fallen sharply, to an estimated 207,041 (µ± 2,016). The roughly 26,200 households experienced an estimated total loss of 80,500 people while also absorbing an additional estimated 16,000 people that needed shelter: relatives, non-relatives and children separated from their families. These shocks were only partially offset by the normal life course of births (µ=9,030, µ± 219) and marriages (µ=1,804, µ± 96).

• Eighty-six per cent of 2,150 HHs in the survey experienced at least one significant shock over the course of the year. HHs fragmented as a result of shocks as well as coping strategies intended to spread risk across multiple geographies. Over the course of the year, households became 20% smaller, with higher proportions of both children under five years old and females alike. Sending individuals to the POC was the leading cause of reduction in HH size.

• The HHs in the survey using the POC for protection of some members of the HH experienced, on average, three times more shocks than HHs that did not send anyone to the POC. These sending HHs also had death rates that were, on average, 1.5 times higher than HHs that did not send anyone to a POC. The analysis suggests that the POC serves as one of several “late” coping resources for the survival and protection of highly vulnerable members of HHs, including young women, mothers and children.

• There were an estimated 10,553 deaths (µ± 472) over the course of the year including an estimated 7,165 deaths from violence (µ± 277) and 829 deaths from drowning (µ± 69). Even though some sources of mortality were underreported in the survey, the estimated Crude Death Rate exceeded the emergency threshold of 1 death/10,000 people/day.

• Most shocks had different effects depending upon age and gender. There was an increase of female headed households. Males suffered the most number of deaths overall, especially violent deaths. Females were more likely than males to be abducted. Most child-headed households were led by girls. Girls aged five or younger were the most likely to drown. It appears that some of the children aged five and under sent to the POCs may not have survived the journey.

• By the end of 2015, the population of the Bentiu POC neared 140,000 people drawn from a wide area. The contributions by humanitarians and peacekeepers in saving the lives of these highly individuals in this POC (and other POCs elsewhere in South Sudan) are to be commended. As the survey documented, there were dramatic consequences for those who could not find safe refuge in Unity State. For example, given the analysis of mortality, especially violent death, and the gendered nature of recruitment, it is surmised that the men and boys who elected to travel to the POC perhaps did so because they chose not to be a soldier, rebel, criminal or corpse.

• The findings are shocking. The frequent and often protracted disruption of humanitarian action in parts of Unity State for key periods in 2015 meant that people, sharply affected by violent conflict and living in extremis, could not be adequately supported in times of exceptional needs.

• Extraordinary levels of humanitarian assistance in these – and other – areas of South Sudan are urgently required. Given the depth of losses and dislocation at the household level, humanitarian assistance and protection will be needed at scale for the duration of 2016 and beyond. It will take time, money, stability and a favourable enabling environment – one free of hindrance — to (re-)establish full operational capacities and for the requisite services and supplies to reach these highly vulnerable communities. The focus of efforts needs to encompass not only saving lives and addressing the psycho-social consequences of extensive suffering but also recovering livelihoods.

• Further studies need to be conducted as a matter of priority, especially to estimate excess mortality, document the composition of surviving HHs and analyse the changing nature and sequencing of coping strategies as HHs became increasingly stressed. The findings in this report reflect initial analysis. Further review of the survey data continues.