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South Sudan: Key considerations: bushmeat in the border areas of South Sudan and DRC

Source: Social Science in Humanitarian Action: A Communication for Development Platform
Country: Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan

In the context of the current Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), May 2019, this brief summarises key considerations about bushmeat (meat derived from wild animals for human consumption) in the context of preparedness activities in South Sudan. The brief details the socio-cultural and socio-economic significance of bushmeat amongst at risk communities and perceived risks of Ebola transmission through bushmeat. Its geographic focus rests on South Sudan’s south-western border with the north-eastern border of the DRC, where Yambio is the state capital and primary population hub. Key considerations and recommendations are tailored for this specific area, and may not be necessarily generalisable for other parts of South Sudan or beyond.

The brief is presented in two sections. ‘Section A’ focuses on bushmeat in light of the immediate risk of Ebola transmission from the active outbreak in the DRC to South Sudan (i.e., cross-border human-to-human transmission and in relation to the bushmeat trade). ‘Section B’ focuses more broadly on bushmeat in this specific geographic area, and the longer-term risk of a new Ebola or other infectious disease outbreak in South Sudan, as related to local bushmeat practices (i.e., unrelated to the current outbreak in DRC).

The structure of this brief is designed to separate these issues and to support response partners to differentiate between the priorities for immediate preparedness activities underway in South Sudan and longer-term prevention actions.

Zoonotic knowledge about Ebola continues to improve but remains contested. Despite these limitations, however, preparedness and response must be based on the available evidence. There have been three previous outbreaks of Ebola in Sudan: 1976, a recurrent outbreak in 1979, and 2004. All occurred in the specific geographic area covered by this brief, a dense forest habitat where research over the past four years has revealed wildlife populations that are believed to be carriers of Ebola. Communities across this area actively hunt, poach, handle and consume local bushmeat. These factors are likely to have reinforced current local concerns about the perceived relationship between Ebola and bushmeat. It must be emphasised, however, that overly focusing on bushmeat risks distracting from other more important dynamics for epidemic preparedness and control. Links between bushmeat and Ebola are much more fragile than often thought, and at a time of crisis it is most important to maintain trust and openness with communities. Against this backdrop, public health engagement in this border area of South Sudan converges with political stability, peacebuilding and development, livelihoods, food security and the management of natural resources including wildlife conservation. A balance must be struck between what is sustainable ecologically and what is ‘safe’ in terms of infectious disease.

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The brief was developed by Adrian Garside (King’s College London) with support from Ingrid Gercama and Juliet Bedford (Anthrologica). It draws on expert advice from colleagues focusing on bushmeat and emerging infectious disease in the region; a rapid review of existing published and grey literature; interactions with government and traditional authorities, wildlife rangers and community members in the border areas; communication with experts responding to the current Ebola outbreak in DRC and leading preparedness activities in South Sudan; and lessons learnt from previous Ebola outbreaks. To complement and supplement the review, participatory rural analysis from an at-risk border community (Ndoromo) was reviewed, and Adrian Garside held focus group discussions with semiurban and rural communities (Bangangai) in March 2019. This fieldwork builds on empirical evidence that he has gathered since 2011, working with communities in the South Sudan-DRC border area to focus on socio-cultural issues associated with wildlife, hunting and bushmeat practices, and the socio-economic issues around poaching and the bushmeat trade. It also draws on research conducted in the remote cross-border markets and on the pattern of human movement across this porous border.

The brief was developed in response to a request from the South Sudan EVD Risk Communication, Social Mobilisation and Community Engagement (RCSMCE) Technical Working Group (TWG), the South Sudan National Task Force for Ebola (NTF) and the UNICEF Country Office in South Sudan. It aims to provide actionable recommendations based on a realistic analysis of the available, local resources. It is one of a series of briefs focusing on cross-border relations and preparedness efforts between DRC and neighbouring at risk (priority one) countries. Broader contextual issues are addressed in the forthcoming brief ‘Cross-border Dynamics between South Sudan and the DRC’. 2 Prior to its finalisation, additional inputs and comments were provided by DeeAnn Reeder (Bucknell University), Tim Allen (London School of Economics), Théodore Trefon (Royal Museum for Central Africa), Melissa Parker (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine), Tamara Giles-Vernick (Institut Pasteur), Naomi Pendle (London School of Economics), Melissa Leach (Institute of Development Studies), James Fairhead (University of Sussex), Paul Richards (Njala University, Daniel Cohen (Maccabee Seed Company), Lizz Yocum (UNICEF West and Central Africa Regional Office), Charles Kakaire (UNICEF East and Central Africa Regional Office), Satyajit Sarkar and Gopinath Durairajan (UNICEF South Sudan Country Office), and Sandra Banks (South Sudan Red Cross and University of Juba). The brief is the responsibility of the Social Science in Humanitarian Action Platform (SSHAP).

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