The Economic Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic in South Sudan
Type: Policy Briefs
The COVID-19 outbreak presents three lessons for South Sudan, with 156 confirmed cases to-date. First, the government’s policy to clamp down on social gatherings is not as effective as assumed. Granted the streets are indeed empty now compared to the pre-policy period, but the crowds have shifted elsewhere—residences, neighborhoods’ tea stalls, recreational clubs, and commercial facilities, including supermarkets and banks. This certainly sustains the potential risk of spreading the COVID-19 pandemic. Second, firms and individuals in South Sudan are going through severe economic stress. Some aspects of the government’s intervention have not been helpful. Banks and firms are losing money due to the shortened hours of operation. Nevertheless, there is no proof that restricting the operational hours to just 4 a day indeed curbs increased exposure to the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, following the introduction of the new policy, commercial banks have attracted more crowds than ever before, a recipe for health hazards the government is intended on abating.
The final lesson is that South Sudan remains unprepared for the COVID-19 pandemic. Both the public and private sectors demonstrate very little preparedness in response to the outbreak. The government, notably fiscally impaired, has allocated minuscule of resources to avert the attendant and impending impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. This underlying lack of commensurate resources means fewer equipped health facilities for the care of the sick, fewer optimally trained health professionals deployed to manage the crisis, and strained health education. Health institutions, both public and private, are ill-prepared to adequately respond to the virus. Several obstacles abound. The increasing cost of medical and public health supplies is suffocating for a vast majority of health institutions. Demand for other health services at hospitals and clinics has drastically plummeted, slashing incomes that could be leveraged to support the COVID-19’s preparedness and response. An escalating cost of transport, coupled with an early curfew, restricts the health facilities’ operations. Personal protection equipment and hygiene items are highly scarce, making prevention efforts almost futile.
The government, UN, and development partners can ease these negative impacts on firms and individuals in South Sudan. Essentially, the Bank of South Sudan (BoSS) should lift the restrictions on operational hours for the banks and forexes. This eases the economic hardships the financial institutions are going through. By regularly moving funds around through forexes, mobile money operators, and banks, the lift can also broaden public access to financial resources required to cushion families during these difficult times. Returning to a full day work reduces the potential risk of infection. Smaller businesses, such as hardware stores, network kiosks, and charging stations hardly attract crowds and present minimal risks to the public. These businesses, like food stores and health facilities, should be exempted from closure.
Bodaboda remains an essential means of transport in South Sudan. It is also a livelihood source for many young people and their families. But it is also understood that a business-as-usual model expands the peril of the COVID-19 spread. Therefore, the government should make facemasks available at a subsidized rate. This support could be extended to public buses, possibly returning the rising cost of fares to the pre-policy period, which is more affordable to the general public.
To make it through these crunch times, firms will need an extra hand from the government, easing financial hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic. Extending stimulus packages and credit facilities could go a long way in shielding the firms and their workers. Tax breaks during the lockdown enable the firms to stretch the little incomes or savings they have to keep businesses operational and people employed.
The UN and development partners could strengthen the private sector’s preparedness and response to the outbreak. They could finance the private sector practices, availing resources for treatment, research and training, and large-scale health education. Both the government and its partners should consider food aid to the vulnerable households in Juba and other population centers. Many poor households are already hard hit by hunger, and this could only get worse as the scourge of the COVID19 outbreak continues menacing the world.
The COVID19 outbreak presents an opportunity for South Sudan to challenge the status quo—doing nothing to prepare the country for future disasters. The time for radical reforms is now, starting with notable investments in the country’s health and economic sectors. It is inevitable that the country will accumulate more debt in response to the outbreak. Newly mobilized resources, either through loans or other means, should be dedicated toward strengthening the health, economic, governance, and food production systems across the nation. Each of the ten states ought to have a state-of-the-art hospital, in addition to the three regional teaching hospitals located in Juba, Wau, and Malakal. In addition, the county agricultural departments can be established or revitalized to jumpstart food production, create jobs, and stimulate growth.
In a nutshell, borders and airports should remain closed, save for the import of essential commodities. The general public should continue to adhere to basic hygienic practices. Finally, the government should not lose sight of the need to diligently implement the Revitalized Peace Agreement, which has provided respite to the population. This entails an immediate establishment of state and county governments, harnessing the reach and response of subnational authorities/entities.
Abraham Awolich is the Managing Director of the Sudd Institute. Awolich’s research has focused on management of development organizations working in conflict mitigation, governance and business management. Awolich is the co-founder of the Sudan Development Foundation and the former Executive Director of New Sudan Education Initiative (NESEI). Previous to joining the Sudd Institute, Awolich helped establish a secondary school in Yei and a medical clinic in Kalthok, Awerial County. Awolich has a Master’s Degree in Pubic Administration from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University and Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Vermont in Anthropology and Business Administration. Awolich is a McNair Scholar and winner of the prestigious Samuel Huntington Public Service Award in 2006.
Nhial Tiitmamer is the Director of the Environmental and Natural Resources Program at the Sudd Institute and a part-time lecturer at the University of Juba. Before joining The Sudd Institute in 2013, Nhial spent research and consulting stints at Arletta Environmental Consulting in Calgary and at the University of Alberta in Canada. Nhial holds a B.A. in Environmental Studies with a minor in English Literature from the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus and an M.Sc. in Sustainable Energy Development from the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada. Nhial is the co-founder of the NewSudanVision.com and has extensively commented and written on issues about South Sudan and Sudan.
Augustino Ting Mayai is the Director of Research at the Sudd Institute. He holds a Ph.D. in Sociology, with concentrations on demography and development from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He currently studies how state effectiveness affects child health outcomes in South Sudan and Ethiopia. Dr. Mayai has written extensively on South Sudan’s current affairs.