How it is helping to better respond to the refugee crisis from South Sudan
Since December 2013, South Sudan has been the scene of an on-going conflict between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and those loyal to ex-vice president Riek Machar. In July 2016, armed fighting escalated and ethnic tensions rose drastically amid a sharply deteriorating food security situation, triggering an increasing number of refugees fleeing to neighboring countries. In Uganda, an average of 2,200 people from South Sudan have been crossing into the country on a daily basis, bringing the total number of refugees and asylum- seekers from South Sudan to 770,000 in the country. 
With the Ready to Respond project supported by DFID, WFP in Uganda was able to realize a number of preparedness activities in 2015 and 2016, which greatly helped to better respond to the current South Sudanese refugee crisis. Cheryl Harrison, WFP Deputy Country Director in charge of operations in Uganda, said:
“Since July 2016, hundreds of thousands of vulnerable food insecure South Sudanese crossed the border into Uganda in search of security. The speed and magnitude to which WFP has been able to respond to the crisis has only been possible thanks to the preparedness work in anticipation of the emergency. The importance of the fund that donors dedicate to emergency preparedness is invaluable.”
From October 2015 onwards, WFP has been investing in preventive actions without which the scale and quality of the current response would never have been possible.
Prepositioning equipment where it’s needed
WFP purchased prefabricated facilities with the Ready to Respond funds, and when refugees started pouring from South Sudan in 2016, the teams were able to quickly install satellite offices and accommodations close to refugees’ settlements. This allowed personnel to assess urging needs as well as plan, implement and monitor emergency food support in a timely manner.
Many refugees are malnourished when they arrive in Uganda. In order to initiate treatment quickly, the necessary anthropometric and nutrition equipment (such as height boards, measuring tables, weighting scales etc.) have been prepositioned close to settlements and can be rapidly deployed when needed.
The connectivity is often very limited in the remote areas of Uganda where refugee settlements are established. With DFID funding, WFP purchased IT equipment (emergency mobile kits/voice and data ready-to-use set) which enhanced communications for field staff and allowed WFP to stay connected with offices and partners in Kampala. WFP also organized an inter-agency-training and simulation exercise on the use of IT in emergencies, which benefited to staff from 11 agencies. This has been widely appreciated by the UN country team, and is enhancing overall efficiency of the response to the South Sudan crisis.
Increasing storage space close to settlements
To be able to respond quickly to an emergency, WFP needs to preposition food and other relief items in advance, which is only possible if there is enough storage space in the country.
In the remote regions of Uganda in Kiryandongo and Adjumani where refugee settlements are particularly strained with the continued arrivals of South Sudanese, WFP significantly increased its storage capacity by setting up two new warehouses (with a combined capacity of 3,150 MT) and prepositioning four mobile storage units. Without these new spaces, the amount of food that was stored in the settlements would not cover the needs of the current and expected refugee populations.
On a larger scale, WFP is also putting in place an Advanced Positioning Center in Uganda that aims to serve the whole Great Lakes Region. There is an existing central delivery facility at Tororo in Eastern Uganda with 8,000 square meters of storage space across 3 permanent warehouse structures, one of which will be adapted for non-food items and will allow the different humanitarian actors (UN agencies, NGOs, governments etc.) to stock and dispatch relief items in a coordinated approach from a common location, allowing fast and cheaper response to emergencies.
Understanding people's needs for better assistance
While providing assistance to beneficiaries, WFP needs to pay special attention to vulnerable populations and coordinate well with other protection mandated agencies. This is especially important with the South Sudanese refugees who are mainly composed of women and children fleeing a violent conflict, notorious for gender based violence and ethnically motivated killings. With the support of a protection advisor, WFP has enhanced its guidance to partners on how to communicate with affected populations, revised its Standard Operating Procedures for distributions to make them more sensitive to vulnerable beneficiaries, and engaged with inter-agency coordination groups on protection. Besides, WFP conducted trainings for partners on the importance of accountability to affected populations and is launching a helpline to ensure complaints from vulnerable people are taken into account and addressed.
Not all refugees in Uganda have the same needs. To better understand vulnerability among refugee households and ensure that assistance is adapted, WFP together with UNHCR and the Government of Uganda are planning to conduct a comprehensive vulnerability study that will look at livelihood opportunities, income sources, food security and coping capacities, and differences in socio-economic vulnerability among refugees. The study will also assess the feasibility of targeting assistance based on refugees’ actual needs for future humanitarian response.
Enhancing staff skills and readiness
To get staff ready to respond, WFP organized a training for their personnel and partners on nutrition in emergencies. The training was organized jointly with UNICEF and UNHCR as they brought in their expertise in nutrition and displacement. This knowledge is put in practice today with the South Sudanese refugees as staff were able to quickly design and implement nutrition support for South Sudanese refugees.
WFP is also planning emergency response drills on cash-based transfers to reinforce its staff and local partners’ capacity to quickly distribute cash in future disasters. WFP also works closely with a number of other agencies involved in cash assistance and co-leads the inter-agency working group on cash based interventions. In addition, WFP is planning to conduct a separate simulation exercise with the Government on emergency response and coordination, which feeds into a new collaboration between WFP and the Office of the Prime Minister aiming at strengthening durably the latter’s capacities for emergency preparedness and response.
Refugee locations in Northwest Uganda – March 2017 at http://reliefweb.int/report/uganda/uganda-south-sudan-refugee-situation-info-graphic-bi-weekly-update-6-march-2017