Intervening in South Sudan is a constant challenge

Independent since 2011, South Sudan is a country at war. The situation in the country is really complicated and unstable, with heavy fightings since December 2013. A peace agreement was signed in 2015 but violations of the ceasefire continue. The last peace agreement has been signed in September 2018, since then fighting has decreased. This gives hope for the future, but the country is far from stable.
The transitional government was supposed to start mid May 2019, but was not yet ready and therefore this has been postponed till mid november 2019. The context keeps being unstable. Cobi Rietveld was head of mission for Première Urgence Internationale in the country for 4 years. She tells about the challenges to face, in a country where half of the population, nearly 7 million people, are in food insecurity.

PUI au Soudan du Sud

Photography of © Gwenn Dubourthoumieu.

Populations struggling to survive

“Many people have not heard about South Sudan. They often mix it with Sudan”, head of mission Cobi Rietveld starts. “You need to imagine a country with a disturbed economy, in which many children don’t go to school and a major part of the population doesn’t have enough to eat. More than 1 inhabitant over 2 is unemployed, or is not paid by the employer. Harvests are really poor, and water supply is unstable, affecting agriculture and the whole population’s health. Unfortunately, in South Sudan, millions of people are struggling to survive. In this context, it’s a permanent challenge to help them improve living conditions and allow them to regain self-sufficiency.”

Supporting existing facilities

“Première Urgence Internationale has developed a strategy to find solutions as sustainable as possible. In Aweil North region, in the north of the country, we are developing programs to ensure food security and provide livelihoods. We distribute seeds, tools and fishing kits to help families on the longer-term. We also support the public healthcare system.

In the field, this means that we take care of malnourished children, trying to diagnose them as early as possible to improve the care. We make sure that children are vaccinated and immunized, and that pregnant women benefit from a good follow-up, during their pregnancy and until delivery.

Our objective is not to replace existing healthcare facilities, but to enhance their capacities. In primary healthcare centers, we provide medicines and medical supplies, we train staff, and we guarantee them payment of salaries. In some healthcare centers, which are officially free of charge, workers indeed try to get direct remuneration from their patients or quit their position if there are delays in salary payment. And this has, of course, direct consequences on the patients’ health and monitoring.

When intervening in South Sudan, we need to take into account the entire needs of the populations, in order to modify survival mechanisms that have negative long-term repercussions. To fight against malaria, for example, it would be useless to provide a mosquito net to a family who has nothing to eat. The mosquito net would be sold or traded for food. This is what Première Urgence Internationale tries to do since 2015, with a global comprehensive approach of the needs.

Achieve a global comprehensive approach of the needs

To improve living conditions in the region, this strategy must be coupled with solid relationships with all stakeholders:  local authorities, ministry of Health, ministry of Labour, other NGO working in the country… etc. We need to make sure that our actions are well understood, and to work all together, in the interest of supported populations. A fascinating and continuous challenge! »


Following the Ebola outbreak declared in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the identification of diagnosis close to the border, International First Emergency teams in South Sudan are also on active alert to prepare for a response emergency in the country if necessary.
More information on the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Ebola: absolute alertness after diagnosis in Goma (DRC)

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