Frus­trated, donors now say new aid plan is needed for S. Sudan

Eforts to re­form the aid sys­tem would need Amer­ica’s sup­port


In­tense frus­tra­tion is build­ing across the aid com­mu­nity that de­spite its best ef­forts it has been un­able to dent the cat­a­strophic lev­els of suf­fer­ing in South Sudan, wors­ened by war and a po­lit­i­cal class that doesn’t seem to care.

“Ev­ery year we gather and we hold this meet­ing on South Sudan,” In­ter­na­tional Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Mi­gra­tion chief Wil­liam Swing said at the UN head­quar­ters last week. “The con­clu­sion is al­ways the same: It can­not get any worse. And each year we come back — in fact it has got­ten worse.”

The stock tak­ing, part of a high-level meet­ing on South Sudan’s cri­sis held on the side­lines of the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly in New York, was so aw­ful that some aid of­fi­cials are ex­plor­ing al­ter­na­tive ways to al­le­vi­ate the mis­ery.

“I think we all feel that we are mak­ing far greater ef­forts to sup­port, feed, look af­ter the peo­ple of South Sudan than their gov­ern­ment and their own lead­ers,” said one Western diplo­mat.

The met­rics of suf­fer­ing in South Sudan are shock­ing. Around 7.5 mil­lion peo­ple, or 60 per cent of the en­tire coun­try are in ur­gent need of aid – 1.4 mil­lion more than a year ago.

The number of peo­ple dis­placed by the con­flict be­tween Pres­i­dent Salva Kiir and his for­mer vice-pres­i­dent Riek Machar has sur­passed four mil­lion, in­clud­ing two mil­lion who have fled the coun­try.

Mark Low­cock, the new­lyin­stalled chief of the UN Of­fice for the Co-or­di­na­tion of Hu­man­i­tar­ian Af­fairs (OCHA), said famine has been nar­rowly averted in north­ern Unity State, but “the con­flict has caused the number of peo­ple, just one step away from famine, to in­crease from one mil­lion to at least 1.7 mil­lion since Fe­bru­ary.”

And then there is a cholera out­break – South Sudan’s worst ever, which par­tic­u­larly im­pacts the dis­placed.

“There is a recog­ni­tion that some­thing must change, and we can’t find our­selves in a year from now in the same place,” said Abby Max­man, pres­i­dent of Ox­fam US.

As the civil war splin­ters the coun­try into armed mili­tia fief­doms, it makes the task of hu­man­i­tar­ian de­liv­ery far more com­pli­cated and dan­ger­ous.

Aid con­voys trav­el­ling from Juba to Yam­bio in the south­west of the coun­try have to ne­go­ti­ate with “12 dif­fer­ent groups” along the road, said David Shearer, chief of the UN peace­keep­ing mis­sion in South Sudan .

UNMISS is over­stretched and has proved un­will­ing to chal­lenge gov­ern­ment or rebel sol­diers block­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian ac­cess. One of the most dis­turb­ing fig­ures is the number of hu­man­i­tar­ian work­ers who have been killed. Eigh­teen have so far lost their lives this year, bring­ing the to­tal since the out­break of the civil war in De­cem­ber 2013 to at least 85, said Low­cock.

There is also a long his­tory of aid and donor money be­ing pil­fered and skimmed by the coun­try’s elite. In May, the gov­ern­ment in­creased NGO regis­tra­tion fees six-fold to $3,500.

“Ar­bi­trary and ex­or­bi­tant taxes, bur­den­some reg­u­la­tions, and out­right egre­gious rentseek­ing be­hav­ior to­wards NGOS slows the ef­fec­tive­ness and ef­fi­ciency of hu­man­i­tar­i­ans in South Sudan,” said Rob Jenk­ins, act­ing as­sis­tant ad­min­is­tra­tor at USAID.

South Sudan was ush­ered into ex­is­tence in 2011 with a large push from Washington. The US re­mains the top hu­man­i­tar­ian donor, spend­ing over $700 mil­lion this year. Ef­forts to re­form the aid sys­tem would there­fore need Washington’s sup­port.

There seems to be will­ing­ness to at least ex­plore op­tions. In early Septem­ber, USAID Ad­min­is­tra­tor Mark Green told Pres­i­dent Kiir the US would be “un­der­tak­ing a com­plete re­view of our pol­icy to­wards South Sudan,” ac­cord­ing to an in­ter­view with the Washington Post.

“It’s not a bi­nary choice. There are some pretty sig­nif­i­cant down­sides — po­lit­i­cally and in terms of de­liv­ery it­self — with the cur­rent ap­proach to hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance,” said Pay­ton Knopf, co-or­di­na­tor of the South Sudan Se­nior Work­ing Group at the US In­sti­tute of Peace, and for­mer head of the UN Panel of Ex­perts on South Sudan.

But is the po­lit­i­cal will re­ally there to, for ex­am­ple, di­vert as­sis­tance through a friend­lier third coun­try?

Some aid of­fi­cials in New York cited the ex­am­ple of Op­er­a­tion Life­line Sudan, a mas­sive re­lief

...Some­thing must change, and we can’t find our­selves a year from now in the same place,” Abby Max­man, pres­i­dent, Ox­fam US

Pic­ture: AFP

South Su­danese refugees at the UNHCR camp of al-al­gaya in Sudan’s White Nile state, south of Khar­toum.

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