Development environment

South Sudan

Mid-year update 2017 (January - June)

New displacements (Conflict and violence) IDMC (1 January - 30 June 2017)

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Country Information

Population UN Population Division (as of 2017)
Total number of IDPs (Conflict and violence) IDMC (as of 31 December 2017)
New displacements (Conflict and violence) IDMC (1 January - 31 December 2017)
New displacements (Disasters) IDMC (1 January - 31 December 2016)
Refugees UNHCR (as of 2016)

Conflict and violence displacement figures

Latest GRID confidence assessment

Displacement type IDPs (Stock) New Displacement (Flow)
Reporting units People
Methodology Key informants
Key informants
Media monitoring
Geographical disaggregation Admin 2 or more Admin 2 or more
Geographical coverage No No
Frequency of reporting Every month Other
Disaggregation on sex No No
Disaggregation on age No No
Data triangulation No Triangulation Some local triangulation
Data on settlement elsewhere No Partial
Data on returns No Partial
Data on local integration No No
Data on deaths No No
Data on births No No

Latest GRID figures analysis

This figure corresponds to the end of year figure reported by OCHA, subtracting a caseload of 9,254 South Sudanese displaced in Abyei, which IDMC reports on separately.

This estimate was calculated based on events monitoring and includes numbers reported by a wide array of sources, including but not limited to OCHA, REACH, UNMISS, UNHCR, the Camp Coordination and Camp Management Cluster, the South Sudan Protection Cluster, and local media.

Download extended figures analysis (PDF, 35 KB)

Latest GRID stock figure by year of data update

Disaster displacement figures

New displacements


South Sudan has a long history of underdevelopment and conflict, and the multiple causes of displacement in the country make for complex dynamics that frequently overlap. Some key drivers can be identified in escalating armed conflict and recurrent, slow-onset natural hazards such as drought, which are further complicated by a lack of inclusive governance and by socioeconomic marginalisation. Violence has intensified throughout South Sudan since the outbreak of civil war on 15 December 2013, and famine has been declared in parts of the country after years of instability in the food supply because of conflict and drought.

Drivers of displacement

After a 25-year civil war, South Sudan peacefully seceded from Sudan to become the world’s newest country on 9 July 2011. Following decades of turmoil, the country’s leadership inherited extremely low levels of development and a rural majority that relies on subsistence agriculture. Malnourishment was commonplace, and more than half of the population lived in absolute poverty.

In December 2013, a political crisis developed when President Salva Kiir accused former Vice-President Riek Machar of attempting a coup. Violence followed in Juba between rival ethnic and political contingents of the armed forces, namely the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). The conflict reopened unreconciled political and ethnic tensions that fuelled the spread of violence. A peace agreement was signed in August 2015, but it has since been breached on multiple occasions.

In 2016, the conflict deepened and spread beyond the Greater Upper Nile region, especially after the July 2016 clashes in the capital city of Juba. The fighting sparked an escalation of the conflict in many other areas in the latter half of the year, including the Greater Equatoria region and Unity state. By December, one in four people in South Sudan had been forced to flee their homes since the outbreak of hostilities in 2013.

Cattle rustling and inter-communal disputes over access to natural resources such as grazing land and water have also forced people to flee their homes, but despite its seasonal and relatively predictable nature, such displacement cannot be addressed as a standalone issue.

Ongoing conflict, inter-communal violence, instability and underdevelopment have converged to heighten people’s vulnerability to natural hazards such as drought and flooding. Regular displacement arises from sudden-onset disasters brought on by natural hazards, in particular widespread flooding during the rainy season. These events destroy housing and crops and kill livestock, reducing people’s capacity to recover.

Food and livelihood insecurity – a result of drought, violent disruptions to farming and a collapsing economy – is a significant driver of displacement in South Sudan. As of December 2015, around 50 per cent of nationwide harvests had been lost in areas affected by violence. In February 2017, the UN declared famine in Greater Unity state, an area that has seen a rise in displacement.

Patterns of displacement

All ten of South Sudan’s states have been affected directly or indirectly by displacement during the current crisis, but population movements are difficult to track and patterns hard to discern. The fluidity of displacement in South Sudan makes it difficult for humanitarian agencies to determine the number of IDP returnees and to update the total numbers of people displaced.

The combination of conflict, economic crisis and inadequate access to food and livelihoods has eroded vulnerable households’ ability to cope and added to the already complex and numerous drivers of population movements. This has left many IDPs in a situation of protracted displacement with little prospect of finding a durable solution.

In parallel, the recurring nature of the main displacement triggers, including sporadic outbreaks of conflict and acute food insecurity, means that many people have been displaced multiple times, particularly in Unity and more recently in the Equatorias. Porous borders and a lack of coordination between countries have also enabled circular cross-border displacement, with people moving back and forth between South Sudan and neighbouring countries when they are unable to find safety.

As of November 2016, around 212,000 IDPs were sheltered in UN protection of civilians sites at six locations. The sites are overcrowded, with many newly displaced people hosted by relatives in existing structures for IDPs. Access to safe water and sanitation facilities is inadequate, exposing populations to waterborne and communicable diseases.

The majority of IDPs in South Sudan live outside of displacement camps wherever they can find safe shelter. Many live alongside protection of civilians sites, in churches or in small villages isolated from the fighting. In more violent areas, IDPs hide in swamplands or in the bush, where they often survive on grass, roots and water lilies, heightening the risk of malnourishment.

Seasonal flooding in South Sudan wipes out crops and livestock, decreasing the ability of households to provide for themselves. Comprehensive information on the length and patterns of displacement is not available. It is assumed that many people displaced by floods return to their homes or other previous residences quickly, as seen in Warrap state in 2013, but the heightened vulnerability of the people affected and the new population movements reported from the same areas each year point to repeated and protracted displacement.

Priority needs and vulnerabilities

Displacement in South Sudan is primarily a matter of protection that extends far beyond the urgent material needs of newly displaced people for food, water, shelter and essential non-food items. IDPs, the majority of whom are children, are vulnerable to killings and abuse, including forced recruitment by armed groups. Displaced women and girls are highly exposed to the risk of sexual violence, a pattern that is well documented when they pass checkpoints or leave collective shelters, for example to gather food or firewood.

There are also safety and security concerns at sites for IDPs, including UN protection shelters. Humanitarian agencies have noted high levels of psychosocial distress among IDPs as a result of confinement in protection sites, family separation and the persistent threat of attack on their communities. The standard of living in overcrowded IDP settlements across the country remains low, leaving IDPs vulnerable to disease without reliable access to medical care.

Hunger is an increasingly pressing concern, as food insecurity, acute malnutrition and in some areas famine have reached unprecedented levels. Negative coping measures have been observed across the country. For example, 89 per cent of the people have reduced the number of meals consumed, 70 per cent rely on wild food and 58 per cent go entire days without food.

Selected references

South Sudan: greater humanitarian and development efforts needed to meet IDPs’ growing needs, July 2014

South Sudan 2017 Humanitarian Needs Overview, February 2017

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons on his mission to South Sudan, 2014

UN Security Council Resolution 2327, December 2016

Law and policy database