— The crisis in South Sudan has not only created a humanitarian disaster
that has displaced more than one million people, separated children from their families and left nearly four million people facing alarming hunger, it's also hitting the national and local economies hard.
Oil production, the lifeblood of South Sudan's economy, is down by around 30 percent, according to international reports. The cholera outbreak in Juba, which the World Health Organization (WHO) has tied to the six-month-old conflict in the country, has forced many food vendors and tea sellers in Juba to shut up shop, as people shun food prepared outdoors and health officials step up hygiene inspections.
Residents of towns like Torit, in the south of the country, have said that even though they have not been hit directly by the violence, they have felt its bite, with food, fuel and even mobile telephone airtime in short supply.
'This year is not going well'
Now, another business is being hit: money transfer companies.
The manager of Eden Money Transfer in Wau, Christopher Tabu Enok, told South Sudan in Focus that business has dropped by 30 percent since the beginning of the year. He blamed the conflict that broke out in mid-December, and the fact that civil servants in Western Bahr El Ghazal state have not receive their salaries since May, for the slump in business.
Eden Money Transfer depends on salary remittances from government employees for its survival.
"There is no salary in the community, then this is affecting our business concerning sending and receiving," Enok said.
"That is why... this year is not going well," he said.
Eden sister offices in Bor, Bentiu and Malakal -- the capitals respectively of Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile, the three states hardest hit by the fighting -- closed down after thousands of civilians took refuge at U.N. compounds, Enok said.
But he remains hopeful that business will pick up soon, especially now that President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar have signed an agreement to respect a ceasefire deal and set up a transitional government.
Jane Elario came to Eden to receive money to buy medication and pay school fees for her children. The money was sent to Wau from Juba by her husband, who works in the capital. Elario has been waiting for it for more than two months.
‘’When this money is sent, I use it for my kids. Sometime when it is delayed, we really suffer with my children," she said.
Peter Wien Akej, who is from Bor, fled Jonglei state with his wife and two kids and resettled in Wau to try to start a new life. He has struggled to find a job and this week came to Warthok Money Transfer to pick up some money that his brother sent from Yambio.
The 100 South Sudanese pounds his brother sent won't go far, though. It will be all gone once Akej has bought food and malaria medicine, he said.
At the Gai foreign exchange bureau in Wau, manager Andrea N'gor highlights another problem: it's hard to find foreign currency like the euro, U.S. dollar or British pound in local banks.
"We don’t have dollars because the central bank in Wau doesn’t have them," N'gor said.
"We are supposed to have it so that we can help our citizens in the state," he said.
The Gai bureau de change
has simply stopped doing foreign exchange.
According to the U.S. State Department, South Sudan has around 19 banks and about 70 foreign exchange bureaus. Prior to the conflict, the largest four banks and foreign exchange bureaus held around 70 percent of all assets.
Before the crisis, money transfer companies were gaining in popularity in South Sudan, because they made sending and receiving remittances faster and do not charge the same high transfer fees as banks.