In September 2015, Nonviolent Peaceforce South Sudan conducted a Capacities and Vulnerabilities Assessment (CVA) in Wau Shilluk, Malakal County, Upper Nile State. This assessment is an important first step to identify the site’s security so Nonviolent Peaceforce can effectively design a new targeted protection program to maximize positive impact for local populations.

The mission led by Nonviolent Peaceforce's Britt Sloan (Area Program Coordinator, Border Region) and Yannick Creoff (Protection Officer) was conducted as a protection assessment in advance of proposed NP programming on the west bank of the Nile. NP had previously visited Wau Shilluk in May 2015. The CVA aimed to further investigate changes in the local context of the village, deepen understanding of community dynamics, and update NP information regarding protection threats, vulnerabilities, and capacities of the local community.

With the outbreak of South Sudan’s civil war at the end of 2013, Malakal and the surrounding areas of Upper Nile State witnessed massive fighting, displacing tens of thousands of civilians across the Nile River to villages along the west bank. Wau Shilluk, previously a small Shilluk community of some 4,000 residents approximately 12 kilometers north of Malakal, became the main Shilluk internally displaced persons (IDP) settlement. As of May 2015, the community had reached an estimated population of 40,000 individuals.

Throughout 2014 and much of 2015, the humanitarian community was able to support internally displaced persons in Wau Shilluk via air and river access from Juba and Malakal. Towards mid-2015, the situation in Wau Shilluk rapidly deteriorated and rendered humanitarian access to the west bank near impossible. Insecurity within the region caused the closure of the river, which halted barges carrying humanitarian supplies from Juba to Malakal and created complications for aid workers transporting necessary supplies to the area.

Britt and Yannick conducted a capacities and vulnerabilities protection assessment in Wau Shilluk, Malakal County to develop an understanding of the threats present in the community and capacity of the community to address violence and vulnerabilities. The assessment was based on several different methods of data collection ̶ including qualitative interviews and focus groups. NP conducted eight interviews with local community leaders, including civil authorities, traditional authorities, and women, youth, and church leaders.

New Site in South Sudan 3NP also conducted two focus group discussions on perceptions of safety and security: one consisting of eight men of varying ages and backgrounds, and one consisting of 12 women of varying ages and backgrounds. A male staff member facilitated the male group, and a female staff member facilitated the female group  ̶  in an effort to create a space conducive to discussing sensitive protection issues.

These visits allowed the NP team to better understand the broader security context and protection trends on the west bank  ̶  through observation of the surrounding areas and meetings with the traditional authorities in the area, notably, the paramount chiefs of each payam (administrative division).

NP identified very few protection threats emanating from within the community. Wau Shilluk is largely peaceful and absent of communal conflicts and violence, which is underpinned by the community’s strong Shilluk identity and associated sense of solidarity. There is considerable integration between the host and IDP populations and limited crime and youth fighting. The strong systems of customary authority and justice coordinate effectively with local civil authorities and armed actors to allow for relatively effective accountability and dispute resolution mechanisms.

However, there are threats present outside of the community that are influencing the safety and protection of civilians living in Wau Shilluk. Fighting within the region has caused incidents of killing, assault, harassment, and sexual and gender-based violence. These violent occurrences, along with ongoing risk of shelling and bombing in the area have restricted civilians' freedom of movement on the east bank. Furthermore, the ongoing river blockade has resulted in families being separated.

In the coming weeks and months, Wau Shilluk and surrounding areas are likely to remain highly volatile due to outside violence. While the community on the west bank of the Nile demonstrates considerable resources to cope with protection threats, the limitations on movement, family separation issues, and recent escalation of fighting will undoubtedly test these local capacities.

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