They live in a state of suspension under plastic sheets or twigs, under tents if they are lucky, out in the open if they are not. Women and children, men and boys; the only certainty in their lives is uncertainty.
These are the human flotsam from South Sudan’s unresolved internal conflict, which erupted in December 2013, sending more than a million running for shelter, food and security, killing 10,000. “It’s a critical emergency,” says World Food Programme (WFP) Logistics Cluster head Fiona Lithgow. “Just getting relief to these people in a country of this size is an enormous challenge, but we are winning.”
Relief flights leave Juba airport daily, airlifting or airdropping supplies to U.N. and NGO teams dotted around the compass points of one of Africa’s biggest countries, and the newest country in the world. Almost all of that aid comes by road from faraway Mombasa, or the U.N. logistics base at Entebbe, Uganda. It now gets fast-track clearance under a programme supported by TMEA and its partners which has reduced clearance time to one or two days from four-five days before. “The paperwork has been hugely reduced for aid trucks,” says Bennet Obwoya, who oversees the comings and goings of the aid convoys in a small containerized office at the corner of the Nimule Customs area.
“The need for proof of payment of taxes for aid, which is tax exempt, has been done away with. Verification of cargoes has been speeded up a lot and things have improved with the help we got from TMEA.”
He checks the trucks arriving on his laptop computer – entering the details of the vehicle and its cargo in yellow, and ticking them off as they depart in blue. “Almost 100 aid trucks come through daily, about half the total.”
The cargoes include sorghum, maize flour oil and the other ingredients that constitute the world aid response to the emergency.
“We have noticed the difference,” says Aimee Ansari, head of Care International’s relief team in Juba. “Stuff is getting through the border so much faster now, and it needed to.”
By her estimate, there are now 1.5 million people needing emergency relief in South Sudan, most of them in the North of the country, where three states are still in conflict despite ongoing peace talks in Addis Ababa.
“We’re talking about people who have absolutely nothing,” says Ansari. “Air drops are often the most efficient way of getting stuff to them – you dump it out of the back of a plane and a representative on the ground takes charge of it, and distributes it. It’s that simple.”
David Hayes, a senior logistician at UNICEF, says that the relief operation “is probably the biggest in the world today” and points out the piles of medical supplies, food supplements and other goods in the Juba warehouse awaiting delivery to the needy by air or road.
“Anything that speeds things up is a bonus. This is a critical emergency.” Yowa Soso, head of the South Sudan Shippers Council, says TMEA help has greatly speeded up the delivery of goods by road and air but is especially noticeable in the way aid is getting fast-tracked to the needy.
“It’s improved a lot. The relief is getting through much quicker, and we are doing what we can to help. Clearance times at Nimule are down to one day, and that may be a lesson for all the goods that come through,” he says.
“Time on the road is money for shippers. It costs about $500 a day just to keep a truck on the road, so every day wasted costs time and money, and for the needy it’s much more desperate.” Joseph Kenyi, Director-General of Revenue at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, nods vigorously in agreement when Soso’s statement is relayed to him.
“It’s critical to get aid to those in need and to cut the time it takes to get through Customs, and we have done that with TMEA help, just streamlining the procedures and the paperwork,” he says in his Juba office.
“But it’s more important than just aid for those in need. Aid like this helps maintain stability. Programmes like this help build that stability,” he says. “We need peace, we need peace more than anything, and stability helps build peace too.”
The South Sudan government has also swept away Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) to trade, such as maverick police checkpoints, to speed the delivery of aid and trade cargoes alike.
“We’ve done away with nine checkpoints on the Nimule road that were collecting levies, illegal ones, and wasting truckers’ time,” he says. “They were little more than extortion.”
Kenyi says that the way the clearance system was fast-tracked to speed aid shows that similar improvements can be made with TMEA-backed programmes to streamline Customs and Standards management.
“All these improvements have helped – not just the humanitarian ones. We need revenue to build the nation, because we need stability to build peace. We need cash to be able to grow this nation.” Soso agrees. “The way that aid was fast-tracked points the way for all imports and the government desperately needs to get more revenue from trade, because this conflict has shut down oil returns.”
WFP’s Obwoya says that the aid is now getting through Nimule in record time. “It takes a good driver three to five days to get here from Mombasa, so another five days waiting for clearance does not make much sense.”
“What’s happened is that we have simplified things and had help from TMEA and from Customs to do that. It is working.”
As he speaks, a driver comes into his office with papers showing his cargo of sorghum has been cleared.
Obwoya leans over his laptop, where he is spending 12 hours a day and seven days a week, and makes a few keystrokes.
The line showing the truck’s registration, the day it arrived and the day it left (February 20), its cargo of SOR (sorghum) from Mombasa (MSA) changes from yellow to blue. The truck is on its way to those in need.