Author: Danka Pantchova, Global Nutrition Cluster, Helpdesk
In complex crises, humanitarian responses must cut across many sectors and for this reason, inter-cluster collaboration is the best approach. For example, the famine and malnutrition experienced by people in South Sudan are the result of various factors and events converging. Stretching over many years, affected populations have been exposed to many shocks and underdevelopment. The country remains in a prolonged and critical period of unprecedented severe food insecurity (2017-2020) and acute malnutrition rates regularly surpassing the emergency thresholds of 15 per cent.
In late 2016, the situation in the Northern Bahr el Ghazal was characterized with very critical levels of acute malnutrition (above 30 per cent), high prevalence of morbidity and food insecurity. At the beginning of 2017, the food and nutrition situation extended further in some parts of the country leading to a declaration of famine in February 2017 in Leer and Mayendit counties.
Facing this situation, the four lifesaving clusters in country, Food Security and Livelihoods, WASH, Health and Nutrition, elaborated an integrated inter-cluster response plan embracing the multi-sectoral approach to respond to the famine crisis. The process started in October 2017 during the preparation of the 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP). It was then formalized in January 2018, when all the lifesaving clusters gathered together for a one-day workshop. During this session participants established a joint famine response strategy, to confirm a minimum famine response package of services and agree on a joint geographical convergence.
The inter-cluster efforts since 2017 resulted in a range of qualitative changes in the overall humanitarian response planning in South Sudan.The combination of response strategies enabled humanitarian actors to share mutual resources in order to provide comprehensive and timely humanitarian services. It allowed access to serve affected populations in difficult to reach, inaccessible and under-served areas in 2017. The need of an early warning system and joint needs tracking triggered the establishment of a Need Analysis Working Group, which continuously promotes data sharing and triangulation of indicators from various sectors. The integrated minimum famine response package became a reference list of services for the years to come. Currently, the package is regularly reflected in the clusters’ HRPs confirming the alignment, the convergence and the colocation of clusters’ responses. In the acute famine phase, the rapid mobilization of partners allowed quick scale-up of nutrition treatment and prevention services. Using this momentum to boost the coverage of nutrition programmes in 2017 was a key to maintaining it throughout 2018, 2019 and 2020.
Although challenging, the South Sudan experience, documented in this case study, introduced a range of practices that have been further sustained. This included ensuring a joint coordination forum for partners to meet, discuss and listen to what they know and expect of integration. These forums were also an opportunity to clarify, encourage and address concerns. Regular analyses were done during cluster meetings to track gaps alongside the commitment of partners, and to hold them accountable to agreed timeframes. Another practice that was established was the incremental use of joint assessments and joint analyses, among others. Nowadays, clusters continue to use the minimum famine response package of services, while also committing to an integrated approach in the sectoral Humanitarian Response Plans.
An important lesson from the South Sudan experience is that famine and malnutrition can be prevented if multi-sectoral, multi-year, flexible and timely funding is provided to humanitarian and respective authorities that can build and restore resilience of the affected communities. In addition, the experience leveraged the following tangible learning:
• The need for working together was reinforced and was part of the regular agenda during the inter-cluster meetings. It increased understanding about the importance of partnerships, building relationships among the clusters and organizations, bringing synergies and complementarity among all the humanitarian responses and actors.
• The inclusion of the integration agenda in country-level planning documents in the past years is key to gaining commitment by various stakeholders.
• Bringing together all partners and sectors in the same place since the beginning of the inter-cluster process might be challenging. Initial leverage with present clusters and gradually moving advocacy for scale up by other clusters/sectors worked best.
• It is good to identify small, doable actions as a feasible and realistic start that does not necessarily require extra financial resources. The geographical convergence can begin with one site and then to be scaled up. Start small and doable to go big!
• The integrated response can be efficient when maintained with ongoing cluster engagement. It requires facilitation from the cluster coordinators and willingness to go the extra mile.
This case study presents a deeper description of the inter-cluster famine response strategy in South Sudan and its effects on better inter-cluster coordination.