South Sudan’s partial lockdown affects people’s livelihoods amid COVID-19 fears

Friday, April 3rd, 2020 10:10 |
Locals and motorists are seen hours before the lockdown in Juba, capital of South Sudan April 2, 2020. (Xinhua/Denis Elamu)


Many households in South Sudan are grappling with disrupted livelihoods amid rising prices of food and other necessities as finances keep drying up and many families are forced to observe strict partial lockdown in the country due to prevention measures against COVID-19.

South Sudan is yet to report a COVID-19 case. However, the heightened fear over the possible spread of COVID-19 has impacted negatively on small businesses.

Moses Mabior Makur, a 22-year-old garment trader has recently found it's going tough in the aftermath of the recent order by President Salva Kiir, banning public gatherings and barring traders dealing in non-essential goods from operating in major markets with exception of food vendors.

"I started business in January 2019, but right now it has slowed down due to COVID-19 in neighboring countries. We are running up and down and business is not doing well at all," said Mabior during an interview on Thursday.

Several traders like Mabior, have defied government directive to stay home for fear of starving.

They are taking risks that involve operating on the streets, while on the lookout for security agents who could impound their merchandise.

"I am going on with my work slowly, because if I am forced to stay at home, where will I get money to buy food and other necessities," said Mabior.

The open-air markets are the source of livelihood for South Sudan's huge informal economy.

Landlocked, South Sudan depends heavily on food imports from the region and the country recently restricted movement within its border crossing points, shut down commercial flights, and also imposed night curfew over COVID 19 jitters.

At least 6.5 million people are at risk of food insecurity in South Sudan, according to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report released in February.

"I am requesting the government to allow us if possible to work in the morning hours, and close by 7 P.M. If that proposal is accepted, we will be fine," said Mabior.

Taban Godfrey, a 36-year-old motorcyclist, said he is benefiting from the current situation as he has doubled fares like his peers in the business which has emerged as a safer mode of transport amid fear of the rapid spread of COVID-19.

"We have hiked fares because of the situation as prices of many basic commodities have also risen at the moment," said Taban.

"Some of us are benefiting from this situation as we can profit from this current partial lockdown," he added.

Taban said that authorities are always reminding them to wear facemasks and carry out handwashing as a precautionary measure against COVID-19.

Oliver Namusisi, a mother of six from Uganda, said the current situation has forced her to close shop in the main market while resorting to selling her merchandise on the streets despite a ban by authorities.

"Business is no longer booming. I have closed my shop in the market, and as I started vending some of my items on the streets, I was forced to close business fleeing with my merchandise more than twice due to running battles with security agents that were forcing traders off the streets," said Namusisi.

"We have been informed that starting next week, there will be total lockdown and food selling points will be shut. The situation may get worse ahead because South Sudan already suffers food shortage since the outbreak of conflict in December 2013," she added.

She said that she can no longer afford to send cash to her family in Uganda due to the harsh business environment.

Lucy Achol, a female trader said she is worried about the prospect of entire border points being completely shut down, hence barring a few trucks still bringing in food to South Sudan.

"We are worried that if authorities close the border completely, barring a few trucks bringing in food, we may starve," said Achol. (Xinhua)

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