The Currency of Connections

South Sudan

January 14, 2019

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. We 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.

Key findings

  • Socially connected households rely on one another for food, shelter and help with economic activities such as land clearing and cattle keeping. This support forms an important social and economic safety net for these households.
  • Households are increasingly dependent on sharing humanitarian assistance, including food and cash, as a means of maintaining, strengthening and forging new social connections. This is especially true in the context of crisis-related declines in local agricultural and livestock production capacities.
  • Households are relying more on marketplaces for financial and nonmaterial support, including loans, goods on credit, information and advice. Gender roles that predate the crisis dictate that men have more control over assets, such as cash or cows. As a result, men can more easily form and maintain social connections in the marketplace, and they are better positioned to negotiate with traders to obtain in-kind goods or cash loans.
  • Household recipients of humanitarian cash transfers often face significant pressure to share cash with nonrecipients. However, sharing cash may be a relatively unreliable means of accessing reciprocal support. This is likely a result of Panyijar’s accelerating transition to a cash-based economy in which cash is in high demand but low supply.
  • Traders are often more willing to provide important financial assistance to household cash recipients than to nonrecipients because cash recipients are seen as particularly creditworthy borrowers.

Key recommendations

Aid actors should:

  • Build in overlap between short-term emergency relief and early recovery interventions.
  • Consult informal livelihood-based support groups when designing and implementing livelihoods programming.
  • Tailor cash distributions to meet the differing needs of men and women.
  • Improve women’s perceived creditworthiness and capacity to form relationships of trust with marketplace actors.

Donors should:

  • Provide aid actors with the flexibility to determine when and how to pivot from short-term emergency assistance to livelihood support.

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