The currency of connections: Why local support systems are integral to helping people recover in South Sudan

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The purpose of this report is to give aid actors insights into localized social protection and support systems in South Sudan and the ways in which humanitarian aid, including cash transfer programming, can both complement and disrupt these systems. The authors hope that this report, and others in this series, will enable donors and aid actors to design and deliver programs that strengthen existing social support networks and, at the very least, do not undermine them.

Why do social connections matter?
In protracted crises in which formal governance structures are weak to nonexistent, people depend heavily on local systems—both social and economic—to get by, often more than they depend on external aid. Households and economic actors may rely on their friends, neighbors and extended families for food, access to economic opportunities, and negotiation of safe passage when fleeing from conflict. In addition to social support networks, markets have been shown to play a critical role in enabling crisis-affected populations to cope with and recover from conflict, displacement and disasters. Even throughout prolonged conflict, market activity is often persistent. Strong relationships and trust between individuals help crisis-affected households share knowledge, find income opportunities, borrow money and obtain other resources. It is thus critical that aid actors understand how social connections and markets interact and help conflict-affected populations in South Sudan cope and recover. Research shows that when humanitarian actors fail to understand these existing local coping strategies, they risk inadvertently undermining them.

This report describes variations in households’ social connectedness and their related abilities to benefit from local support systems. Additionally, it considers the different obligations that households and economic actors have to support others in their communities and whether such support is reciprocal. Findings are based on 67 qualitative semi-structured interviews conducted in October 2018 in Panyijar County (southern Unity State). Respondents included a diverse sample of households, economic actors and key informants.

 

Alex Humphrey

Research Manager at Mercy Corps in South Sudan.

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