South Sudan is facing a ‘complex and multi hazard crisis’, and the central role of communication with communities was emphasised by the UN deputy Humanitarian Coordinator for the country at the launch of the CDAC developed Working Group. More than 70 representatives from UN agencies, international NGOs, national humanitarian organisations, media and the private sector heard the UN’s Sue Lautze outline the gravity of the crisis and say that humanitarian action in South Sudan has to move beyond the logic of ‘you fight, we feed’. Communicating with communities in a country with little means to communicate with its people meant aid agencies must make this real and substantial. Applauding the interest of so many organisations at the event she said ‘“Communicating with communities is about accountability’. Humanitarian accountability in South Sudan is therefore, she argued, about putting in place a social contract that holds authorities and humanitarians answerable, reduces civilian suffering, protects people, and emphasizes liability before and not after a wrong.
Among the other speakers was Sam Koang Malual who has considerable experience of humanitarian assistance having become a refugee after fleeing his home because of fighting. He currently lives at a UN site in South Sudan for those who unable to return to their homes. He gave examples of seeing food distributions go awry because of distrust between agents and the community, and how a telephone service to help the displaced get in contact with families was undermined by community leaders afraid the lines could be tapped. He concluded there was a consistent lack of proper communication and two-way dialogue between communities and humanitarian responders. ‘Communicating with communities remains a gap’, said Sam, ‘and it required active engagement with community members and not just dependency on their representatives’.
The formal establishment of the Communication with Communities Working Group in South Sudan marks a milestone for the CDAC Network, and its work under the UK’s Disasters and Emergencies Preparedness Programme. In both South Sudan and Bangladesh members of the CDAC Network are working to establish multi partner platforms that advocate, develop, test approaches and scale up successful strategies while ensuring there is coordination. In South Sudan the media development organisation Internews is the primary organisation in an innovative engagement with a variety of partners dedicated to collaborative action. Overall management of the project, training and engagement with the donor is carried out by the CDAC Network Secretariat in London.