On 15 December 2013, heavy fighting broke out in South Sudan’s capital Juba and quickly spread to the Greater Upper Nile region. Countless lives and livelihoods were lost, entire villages were destroyed and communities were uprooted. Basic social services ceased functioning as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) evacuated their staff, and infrastructure was destroyed and supplies looted. Several hundred thousand people were displaced and the threat of famine loomed over much of the country in early 2014. Ninety per cent of those displaced and in need were living outside Protection of Civilian (PoC) sites, in remote locations extremely difficult to access due to a combination of insecurity and logistical constraints, particularly during the rainy season.
To reach these populations with lifesaving humanitarian assistance and re-open humanitarian space, in March 2014, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) initiated an Integrated Rapid Response Mechanism (IRRM), which was designed to assess and respond to rapidly changing needs on the ground in order to address critical gaps in humanitarian coverage and meet the needs of those otherwise cut off from available services.
Considering the volatility of the situation and the severity of logistical and access constraints, the operating mode of the IRRM is highly flexible. IRRM missions are mobile teams of technical specialists in sectors including food security, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), health, nutrition, child protection and education who assess and respond to the situation on the ground. The multi-sector response is designed to adapt to a fast changing environment, ensuring situation assessments are made and immediate actions are taken, while implementing risk mitigation measures such as deploying international security and logistics staff.
Since the IRRM’s inception to the end of 2016, more than 403 missions have been deployed, reaching over 1.4 million people with lifesaving food and nutrition rations, paired with other critical services. UNICEF and WFP have deployed 91 joint missions, reaching 1,489,948 people, including 278,776 children under 5 years, with multi-sectoral services including food assistance, nutrition, health, WASH, education and child protection. Over 100,000 metric tons of food, nutrition, WASH, health and other programme commodities have been delivered by WFP Aviation, including WFP Logistics and the Logistics Cluster, in support of UNICEF and WFP IRRM missions; making it one of the largest air lift/drop operations in the world.
Three years of conflict have seen the situation in South Sudan continue to deteriorate. While the slow implementation of the Peace Agreement continues, large areas of Greater Upper Nile and Greater Equatoria remain hard to reach due to conflict; during the rainy season inaccessible roads pose further challenges. Food insecurity has reached historic levels and vaccine-preventable diseases are spreading rapidly due to poor routine immunization coverage. In the face of this, UNICEF and WFP are returning to the core objective of IRRMs: to save lives. The IRRM will continue to focus on reaching otherwise inaccessible populations with urgent, life-saving interventions, prioritising those most in need.