South Sudan case study: Northern Bahr el Ghazal

News and Press Release
Originally published
The state of Northern Bahr El Ghazal epitomizes how difficult it is for returnees to reintegrate when early recovery intentions get frustrated by a sequence of emergencies. Located along the old front line, the state was disproportionally affected by the civil war and much of its population sought refuge in Khartoum and in South Darfur. Since 2004 it is estimated that more than 400,000 people have returned, making up one third of the state's population and placing a huge burden on the social services accessed by the resident communities. While agencies planned for 8,000 returnees in 2007, more than 80,000 arrived.

Increasing Deficit of Basic Services

During Refugees International visits to Wedweil and Malualbai villages, access to clean water was the number one priority for communities. The greater number of beneficiaries has overwhelmed the existing services. There is a distinct lack of water boreholes, medication, qualified medical personnel, schools and qualified teachers. Lack of sanitation facilities represents a threat to public health and creates a risk of disease outbreak. Aweil Town, the state capital, has no drainage system. In Malualkon, only 3 percent of the population has access to a latrine. Throughout the region, schools are particularly underserved: a school of 1,386 students in the village of Madhol has no latrines and the water handpump is broken.

Lack of Security

In October 2007, conflict broke out between the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and Sudan Armed Forces at the disputed north/south Sudan border and nearly 900 households were forced from their homes. An aid agency in the region witnessed these newly-displaced people living without access to food or water. Additionally the main road connecting the state to Khartoum was closed. This causes huge problems since 95% of fuel and provisions come through this supply route. In December, shortage of fuel led the cost of fuel to rise to US$750 per barrel. More fighting occurred in late December 2007 and January 2008 between the SPLA and pastoralist groups from north Sudan, allegedly of the Misseriya tribe, leading to further displacement. In this tense situation humanitarian agencies were impeded from assessing the needs of the newly displaced, while in another instance, a World Food Program (WFP) warehouse was looted by armed individuals.


Many households returned too late in the rainy season and did not manage to plant their crops or receive the necessary agricultural implements, like seeds and tools. Others were hard hit by floods. When Refugees International (RI) visited the area in June of 2007, returnees had received their three months food ration from WFP and were planting for the upcoming harvest at the end of the rainy season. In the period between August and October, heavy rains and floods wiped out people's crops. Now many households are progressively becoming food insecure. A lack of food and, in some instances, limited simultaneous availability of tools and seeds are likely to lead to higher rates of malnutrition. A humanitarian agency confirmed to RI that it had already spotted some cases of acute malnutrition and expressed concern that the many moderate malnutrition cases could become severe. Finally, returnees had to endure serious difficulties with shelter after their provisional huts were washed away, and grass and plastic for roofing have become more difficult to find.

Inadequate Response Capacity

In this environment, humanitarian agencies are finding it difficult to operate. Their number and efforts appear totally insufficient to meet the basic needs of returnees and host communities alike. Funding for their activities is inadequate, and when available, delays in disbursement are jeopardizing operations. WFP was overwhelmed by returnees in 2007; it ran out of food half way through the year and had to divert existing stock from Food for Recovery programs to respond to general food aid distribution needs. Disbursement of US$4 million from the Common Humanitarian Fund in 2007 represents a drop in the bucket in relation to the real humanitarian needs in the state. And slow disbursement of Multi-Donor Trust Fund resources is affecting the capacity of UNICEF and UNDP to carry out their programs. The lack of capacity is manifested by the fact that two of the five counties in the state -- Aweil Central and Aweil South -- had almost no agencies operating there, and that local government institutions are not capable or willing to undertake basic service provision once international agencies hand services over to them. This has led to schools and medical facilities being closed in the area because salaries of personnel were not paid or adequate numbers of personnel were not recruited.