South Sudan is one of the world\’s biggest displacement crises – and it isn\’t just the conflict that\’s pushing people out of the country. This project used several sources of public data to illustrate the country\’s collapsing economy and the challenges of life for those remaining inside as well as those who choose to leave. The story aimed to give context and scale to an anecdote often heard while reporting in refugee camps: that life in South Sudan was unaffordable. The data allowed us to calculate how much professional salaries for jobs such as teachers, soldiers and professors had lost value over the course of the civil conflict. The project worked to illustrate these realities in a way in which audiences outside of the region could understand and relate to the crisis.
What makes this project innovative?
It can be very difficult to obtain credible and complete data in South Sudan. The conflict has disrupted data collection, in part by blocking access to some regions of the country, and the government invests very little in gathering or publishing economic data. However, the economic situation is a crucial element contributing to the flow of refugees into neighbouring countries. This project made use of data collected by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the government of South Sudan, and organizations distributing services on the ground. The reporting was also done by a freelancer working with limited resources. The goal of the story was to help quantify the problem and tell a story so often told through anecdotes from a refugee camp through the lens of the people who remained inside the country, relying on the data to provide the context.
What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?
The greatest impact of this story was its ability to foster discussion on social media relating to South Sudan. The story elicited response from many analysts and organizations working on South Sudan, but also generated discussion about the complex causes of the movement of refugees.
Source and methodology
The key source of data was gathered through accessing a site run by the United Nations and South Sudanese government, called CLIMIS, where weekly food price data is available to export. That site required a login at the time, which was obtained by the reporter. That data was analysed to find the largest changes in food prices, the places in the country in which prices had increased most dramatically, and compared with the black market exchange rate to see the relative cost in US dollars. Much of the data was incomplete or unreliable as it came from regions that had been disrupted by the conflict. In order to resolve that concern, the story relied on data from a few key markets located in the capital city, Juba, which was more comprehensive. The reporter analysed data from the five years since the start of the civil conflict. In order to develop an understanding of purchasing power, we also wanted to compare the rising food prices with salaries. Those were obtained by manually going through public budget pdf documents from the South Sudanese government, putting the salary rates into an Excel sheet, and comparing them to material provided by sources working in education and other fields. The salaries were then also converted into US dollars using the black market exchange rate, and then compared with the food price data from the same five-year period.
The analysis for this project was done using Excel pivot tables and charts, which were then recreated in-house for the published graphics.