The spread of COVID-19 in South Sudan continues to have an unprecedented impact on the health, economy, and social lives of citizens. It has placed added pressure on already limited services and exacerbated issues that the young country, which gained independence from Sudan in 2011, has been struggling to address.
This was voiced in community meetings in Melut County organized by the Upper Nile Youth Development Association (UNYDA)—an association of young men and women from Upper Nile State who strive to play a more active role in development—in collaboration with Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA).
Melut County, which is located on the eastern bank of the White Nile, incorporates six payams (administrative divisions), including Melut and Palouch, where community meetings were held to promote awareness of COVID-19 prevention and to discuss greater local participation in the management of the state’s natural resources.
“The gap between the community and oil companies seems to be widening”
“There is minimal contribution from oil companies regarding provision of services aimed at preventing COVID-19,” a local chief said in one of these meeting. “The gap between the community and oil companies seems to be widening.”
He also said there was a lack of cooperation between state authorities and members of parliament, and that this was hindering the implementation of the petroleum laws, which allow for oil revenue to be used for developmental activities. He urged oil companies to support efforts to prevent the spread of the disease and enhance community resilience.
The two main laws governing the oil industry in South Sudan are the Petroleum Act of 2012 and the Petroleum Revenue Management Act (PRMA) of 2013. A revenue-sharing arrangement enshrined in the PRMA states that 2 percent and 3 percent of net petroleum revenue should be allocated to oil-producing states and communities, respectively. It is unclear, however, how these allocations are implemented.
Representatives of women’s groups say that during several rounds of talks they had tried to engage state authorities on the implementation of these allocations, but to no effect. Some in the local communities are optimistic, however, that the national government will act differently. The Ministry of Petroleum and Mining is currently carrying out an environmental audit.
At the meeting in Palouch, a representative of local chiefs noted that some chiefs were not familiar with the petroleum laws, but relied on local members of parliament and the youth to use the right channels of reporting complaints up to the national level in Juba.
A youth representative in Palouch said, “As youth, we are working very hard to voice community demands and concerns to the relevant authorities. We are contemplating having a meeting with state authorities.”
Local leaders urged government to work closely with them to ensure effective implementation of the petroleum legislation, including the activation of a Community Development Committee Coordination Forum. A youth leader in Melut said young people needed to be able to play an active oversight role in monitoring of oil revenue allocated for local development projects, and added that governors, commissioners, and state ministers seemed reluctant to do so.
There is also widespread dissatisfaction over the negative impacts of the oil industry
South Sudan, which has significant reserves of crude oil, is recovering from a five-year civil war that cut its oil output by about half. In 2011, at the height of its oil production, the country pumped more than 350,000 barrels per day. Plans are under way to rehabilitate damaged oil infrastructure and explore new blocks to boost production.
There is also widespread dissatisfaction over the negative impacts of the oil industry on the environment, society and governance in the oil-producing states, which a member of UNYDA said could be traced back to the pre-independence Khartoum regime. Khartoum’s policies on the sector were opaque and disregarded local involvement in the management of oil revenue, which made it difficult for communities to demand transparency and accountability.
In the meetings, members of UNYDA emphasized they were working hard to increase awareness around COVID-19 preventive measures and to reduce social vulnerability in collaboration with the NPA under the Oil for Development project. They said they hoped to reach the ear of the relevant authorities through local organizations and community leaders. Because UNYDA has limited resources, they called on oil companies to increase their corporate social responsibility efforts and to support UNYDA in mitigating the effects of the pandemic in Upper Nile.
Patrick Godi is a writer and magazine editor based in Juba, South Sudan.