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A comprehensive response to internal displacement is crucial

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Two years after South Sudan’s independence, the scale and seriousness of the country’s internal displacement situation is often under-reported and remains a major concern. The recent violence in Jonglei has brought the issue to the fore, at least as far as that particular state is concerned, but it has also highlighted the many challenges involved in responding to complex and often entrenched displacement dynamics.

The complexity of the situation is reflected in the wildly varying data available. In Jonglei, for exam-ple, current estimates for the number of internally displaced people (IDPs) range from 11,000 to as many as 120,000. Challenges in terms of access and verification, combined with humanitarian man-dates and structures that focus primarily on conflict-related displacement, mean that figures generally fail to paint a complete picture. Gauging the impact of repeated and protracted displacement is particularly difficult. Over five decades of conflict, much of the South Sudanese population has become highly mobile as a basic survival strategy, with families often splitting up in the process.

As such, any attempts at “in/out” counting are often at odds with the realities on the ground. Diverse and often long- term survival strategies and their impact on social structures also pose obvious challenges in defining what con- stitutes a durable solution in the South Sudanese context. This is arguably a basis for greater focus on IDPs’ specific vulnerabilities rather than the geographical options of return, local integration and resettlement elsewhere.

Gaps in understanding translate into visible gaps in response. National authorities struggle to apply relevant frameworks, development is extremely limited and access to public services poor across large swaths of the country. Displacement remains primarily a humanitarian concern, resulting in a focus on people displaced by conflict and to a lesser extent flooding, with little attention given to other causes despite the clear infringements of human rights they involve.

A broader human rights-based approach drawing on the normative frameworks applicable to Africa could help to remedy gaps in both analysis and response. The last decade has seen the entry into force of the Great Lakes Pact, which contains protocols on displacement, and, while not yet ratified by South Sudan, more recently the Africa-wide Kampala Convention. Both instruments apply human rights approaches to clearly define roles and responsibilities across all phases and causes of displacement: preparation and prevention, including issues around land-grabbing and development; emergency response to support those fleeing both conflict and natural disasters; and recovery, helping communities affected to address the vulnerabilities caused by their displacement.