The Republic of South Sudan became the world’s newest nation and Africa’s 55th country on July 9, 2011. Renewed conflicts in December 2013 and July 2016 have undermined the development gains achieved since independence and worsened the humanitarian situation. As a consequence, South Sudan remains caught in a web of fragility, economic stagnation, and instability a decade after independence. Poverty is ubiquitous and has been reinforced by a history of conflict, displacement, and shocks.
The signing of the latest truce in September 2018 and subsequent formation of a unity government in February 2020 had provided hope for recovery and peace building. Conflict events decreased significantly in 2019, allowing some refugees previously dispersed in the region to return. At the same time, a resumption of oil production in oil fields previously shutdown due to conflict had raised hopes for an oil-led recovery. However, the country faces the risk of reversal of these gains, with increasing incidents of subnational violence in 2020 and COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic exacerbating an already dire situation.
South Sudan remains in a serious humanitarian crisis due to the cumulative effects of years of conflict which has destroyed people’s livelihoods. Extreme levels of acute food insecurity persist across the country and nearly more than 6 million (about half of the population) are facing crisis-level food insecurity, with 1.4 million children under 5 years expected to be actutely malnourished in 2021. Almost 4 million people remain displaced by the humanitarian crisis, with nearly 1.6 million people displaced internally and some 2.2 million refugees in six neighboring countries. Women and children continue to be the most affected. In 2020, communities were hit hard by the triple shock of intensified conflict and sub-national violence, a second consecutive year of major flooding, and the impacts of COVID-19, exacerbating an already dire humanitarian situation.
Insecurity, lack of basic services, and unresolved housing, land and property issues prevented people from returning home in large numbers. Some 8.3 million people in South Sudan are estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance in 2021. These include 8,000,000 nationals and 310,000 refugees and asylum seekers. This is an 800,000 increase in absolute numbers from the 7.5 million people in need in 2020. The increase in needs is largely driven by the rising food insecurity.
As recent events have shown, the South Sudan economy is especially vulnerable to weather, oil price, and conflict related shocks. The economy had picked up strongly before the COVID-19 pandemic, with gross domestic product (GDP) real growth reaching 9.5% in FY2019/20. The oil sector has continued to be the primary driver of growth, with estimated oil production of 62.1 million barrels in FY2019/20, representing a 26.5% increase on the 49.1 million barrels realized in FY2018/19. In the agricultural sector, cultivated area increased by 6% in 2020 compared to the previous year, but it is still far from reaching the pre-conflict levels. However, living standards deteriorated as the pandemic disrupted livelihoods. High-frequency surveys conducted in June 2020 showed that 51.2% of respondents reported reduced earnings from their main income source. The situation has since improved somewhat, with 50.7% of the respondents reporting reduced incomes by October 2020.
Expenditures on key social sectors including health, education, water and sanitation, and agriculture and rural development are limited. Consequently, poverty levels are expected to remain extremely high on the back of severe food insecurity and limited access to basic services across the country. About 82% of the population in South Sudan is poor according to the most recent estimates, based on the $1.90 2011 purchasing power parity poverty line.
The main priority for the government is to address the underlying causes of the conflict and stabilize the economy . The authorities have accelerated dialogue on key reforms intended to cushion the economy amidst a double health and economic crisis. The current reform dialogue has centered on public financial management reforms. These include the formation of an oversight committee for Public Financial Management Reform Strategy (PFMRS) and its governance structures, as well as a technical committee on the economy whose role is to advise on ways to diversify both sources of growth and revenue. Given the necessity of these reforms, are critical, and may have to be accompanied by wider economic management reforms in the medium term.
Last Updated: Apr 02, 2021