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