The COVID-19 Pandemic Vulnerability Factors in South Sudan

The Sudd Institute

Authors: Abraham Awolich, Nhial Tiitmamer

Type: Policy Briefs

Date: 15/05/2020


Publication Summary

This analysis identifies and discusses the COVID-19 vulnerability factors in South Sudan, summarized as follows: 

  • South Sudan is overly reliant on humanitarian assistance and imports of basic commodities, both of which are considered high risk channels for COVID-19 transmission.
  • Healthcare system in South Sudan is underdeveloped and one of the weakest in the world. Although South Sudan has been able to detect, isolate and provide some care for the COVID-19 patients, its health system could be overwhelmed if the number of cases continues to rise, as it has recently been observed. 
  • State fragility weakens law enforcement institutions to penetrate the depth and breadth of the country to enforce travel bans, social distancing protocols, and hygienic practices. 
  • Population density poses a great risk in South Sudan because of the nature of settlements and household sizes. Many people live in informal, clustered settlements and in big households, with some homes housing about 30 people or more at a time, an environment favorable for the transmission and spread of COVID-19. 
  • Natural disasters such as floods and droughts not only overstretch state capacity, they also make population more susceptible and vulnerable as a result of displacement and loss of livelihoods, exacerbating their vulnerability to COVID-19. 
  • South Sudan depends on a single source of income—oil, which is not doing so well now in the global market. This has huge implications for both the economy and the health system in general, as the country is not able to generate sufficient resources to fight the pandemic and cushion people and businesses against economic shocks. 
  • Poor and illiterate individuals are vulnerable to COVID-19 as their access to economic resources and written materials is virtually impaired.
  • Last but not least, lack of government transparency and restrictions on press freedom threaten the citizens’ ability to freely voice their concerns and hold the government accountable in the fight against the pandemic. 

To overcome these vulnerability factors, we recommend the following: 

  • The government should leverage bilateral and multilateral support for humanitarian, medical assistance in form of testing equipment and healthcare facilities, among others. 
  • Carry out mass testing to identify and contain infections. 
  • Monitor the border, track cases, and produce and distribute facemasks.  
  • Create a joint force to impose social distancing measures, travel ban and lockdown.
  •  Reach out to benevolent individuals and countries with the support of UN agencies to mobilize resources to provide relief food to cushion the vulnerable households.
  • Provide security and put an end to communal fights in the countryside to create a conducive environment for farming.
  • Immediately form the state and local governments to help with the fight against COVID-19 and to ensure law and order. 


Abraham Awolich's Biography

Abraham Awolich is the former 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's Biography

Nhial Tiitmamer has served as the Director of the Environment and Natural Resources Program at The Sudd Institute where he is currently on leave to work with United Nations in South Sudan (UNMISS). He has served as an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the University of Juba where he has taught Environmental Economics, Natural Resources Economics and Environmental Sociology. Between November 2021 and November 2022, Nhial worked as Senior Environment Associate with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Juba. Before returning from Canada in 2013, Nhial worked at Arletta Environmental Consulting in Calgary and at University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus in Camrose in Alberta, Canada. Nhial’s research focusses on natural resources governance, environmental protection, climate change, and sustainable energy. He was awarded in May 2023 by the Board of Directors of The Sudd Institute with Research Impact Award for policy impacts. Nhial holds a B.A. in Environmental Studies with a minor in English Literature from the University of Alberta and an M.Sc. in Sustainable Energy Development from the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada.


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