Three reasons national organisations are vital to humanitarian response in South Sudan

Aid, Conflict, Humanitarian

OPINION:

National and local actors have a critical role in responding to the humanitarian emergency in South Sudan. When international aid organisations work in partnership with local groups, their joint efforts are more effective and tailored to the people they are trying to help explains Stella Madete, Oxfam South Sudan Information and Communications Lead.

National organisations are part of the social fabric of the community

Local and national organisations contribute to the relevance of the humanitarian response through their proximity to disaster-affected communities, their understanding of culture and language, and their sensitivity to political and social dynamics.

This was true when conflict broke out in Leer, Unity State, in February 2014. The community fled to the bush, where they lived on water lilies, grass roots, and their own livestock, which they were sometimes forced to slaughter. Staff from South Sudan’s Universal Intervention and Development Organisation (UNIDO) fled with them, carrying a generator and other valuable equipment on their heads. UNIDO spoke with local chiefs in order to understand which areas and which groups were most seriously affected and was able to bring assistance closer to the
community and build trust. They were able to update international aid workers on the humanitarian needs and to arrange a drop-off point for anti-retroviral drugs and other emergency medicines.

National organisations are present on the ground and respond rapidly

The community of St Mary's gather in their local church for a distribution of water purification sachets and rehydration salts as part of the cholera response in Juba. Churches have played an important role as partners in the humanitarian response. Credit: Oxfam

National and local organisations contribute to the effectiveness of the humanitarian response through timely action, communicating with communities and strengthening accountability to communities. In mid-December 2013, when the civil war erupted, a range of local and national organizations provided swift humanitarian assistance despite the insecure environment.

Across the country, community based organizations and faith-based groups provided voluntary assistance and took personal risks to provide protectionIn Juba, where the crisis first hit, Theso and Healthlink put volunteer doctors into hospitals, took water tankers to affected communities, collected wounded people and removed dead bodies from the streets. In locations across the country, the South Sudanese Red Cross began to
register missing children and identify bodies.

Across the country, community based organizations and faith-based groups provided voluntary assistance and took personal risks to provide protection for their communities. Church leaders described sheltering thousands of people in their compounds in the first days of the crisis, sleeping in doorways, preventing the entry of armed soldiers, and negotiating for food with local business owners and NGOs. One recounted:

‘I slept at the gate in my collar and full clerical dress, with only my bare hands [to defend civilians]…I said, “This is a place of life: I won’t have violence here.” If I had been scared, I couldn’t have prevented it, I couldn’t have prevented the atrocities. But the people were vulnerable. They were children and the elderly who couldn’t even run. For those days I had real courage and I was very bold and talked without fear. Nobody died in the compound.’

National organisations have better access in remote and insecure areas

Members of a displaced community pour corn into individual bags during a distribution of food and non-food items to displaced families in Kotobi. Credit: Oxfam

Coverage of humanitarian assistance has been a significant challenge in South Sudan. The most vulnerable people are often located in hard-to-reach or insecure areas and the rainy season and fighting mean that many remote communities face violence and displacement alone. South Sudanese NGOs and faith based organizations play a crucial role in improving coverage of hard-to-access areas and in reaching remote communities.

The humanitarian system and investment in partnership in South Sudan need to adapt substantiallyIn 2014, a community development officer for Sudan Peace and Education Development Programme visited several areas in Aweil North County, travelling by motorbike along a road that was almost entirely overgrown with vegetation. He recalls that the people were surprised to see him as no organizations had previously been there. He noted: ‘This is what organisations like ours can achieve – reaching places and people
that are cut off, and bringing services them.’

The humanitarian system and investment in partnership in South Sudan need to adapt substantially before the potential contribution of national actors is recognised and realised.

To improve outcomes, concepts of partnership should consist of flexible ways of enhancing capabilities and capacities, and explore more innovative approaches to enhance the comparative advantages of local NGOs and international NGOs. While international actors bring critical technical expertise and the ability to scale up, strong partnerships with national actors have been shown to enhance the response. As a result, humanitarian reforms should include reviewing funding streams, investing in capacity, and firmly embedding the role of national actors in the humanitarian system.

Although the role of national actors remains a distinct challenge for the humanitarian community, efforts to develop supportive, long-term partnerships and resilience must be redoubled before, during and after an emergency, and the humanitarian coordination system must become more accessible to national actors. In the final analysis, it is only by involving and strengthening national actors that we can be truly effective and sustainable.

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Photos:

Volunteers from an NGO partner collect refuse to improve sanitary conditions at the Protection of Civilians site for internally displaced people in Tony Piny, Juba. Credit: Oxfam

The community of St Mary’s gather in their local church for a distribution of water purification sachets and rehydration salts as part of the cholera response in Juba. Churches have played an important role as partners in the humanitarian response. Credit: Oxfam

Members of a displaced community pour corn into individual bags during a distribution of food and non-food items to displaced families in Kotobi. Credit: Oxfam

Author: Stella Madete
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.