Experts with ECHO, DfID preview future engagement in Sudan

A member of the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection team talks to locals in Darfur, Sudan. It has been more than 10 years since the conflict broke out, but humanitarian needs in the region remain pressing. Photo by: ECHO / CC BY-NC-ND

Protracted crises are often filed away as forgotten, receiving less attention — and funding — than other emergencies.

It’s not surprising; fresh crises get more media mileage, and in turn more attention from the humanitarian community, including donors.

But representatives from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department, known as ECHO, and the U.K. Department for International Development based in Khartoum, Sudan would like to challenge that assumption.

“Of course, Sudan’s profile isn’t the same as other places in the world … But I would say [it’s] not forgotten from the U.K. perspective,” Alastair Burnett, DfID’s humanitarian adviser in Sudan, told Devex.

A huge part of DfID’s humanitarian assistance is coursed through the Sudan Humanitarian Pooled Fund. In fact, the bilateral donor has been the largest contributor to the fund since 2011.

In 2014, ECHO spent more than 33 million euros ($35.8 million) in the country, 34 percent of which went to programs tackling food security and livelihoods, according to a budget overview shared with Devex. DfID meanwhile spent more than 24 million pounds ($36.2 million) in its 2014-2015 budget year for Sudan, according to the agency’s development aid tracker.

ECHO’s Sudan technical expert Clement Cazaubon and DfID’s Burnett both told Devex their organizations will continue to channel significant amounts of humanitarian funding to the country, although at a lower level compared to previous years. Total ECHO-awarded aid agreements in 2011 totalled 122.39 million euros, but dropped to 56 million euros and 37.52 million euros in the following two years. Total DfID bilateral aid to Sudan, meanwhile, was at 134.67 million pounds in fiscal year 2007, but since 2011 has remained at just above 30 million pounds.

There will be changes in terms of how that money is spent. DfID, for example, is increasingly looking at longer term interventions in Sudan. The bilateral aid donor is set to put resilience more and more at the heart of the programs it supports, which Burnett said is a “chronic key priority” for DfID globally.

They’re no longer interested only in funding blanket food assistance in places where there are severe food shortages, for example, due to little to no rainfall in parts of Darfur, Burnett explained. Now the agency wants to explore interventions that would look at how affected areas can adapt to the changing climate to avoid the descent into famine.

Burnett however understands the challenge of delivering on this concept.

But it’s not just that. DfID is also a strong advocate of targeted-based assistance, a process in which organizations assess and channel assistance to those most vulnerable in the camps.

Aid groups and donors moving toward this strategy in Darfur don’t consider it cutting aid, several insiders told Devex, but rather breaking dependencies in the camps. 

The World Food Program is currently working on this as part of its transition from emergency based programming to recovery intervention.

“After a period of time, we should be looking much more [at] who needs assistance and who doesn’t, making sure that we don’t create the wrong incentives for people [and] continue the line … of handouts and so on,” Burnett said.

But many of those who live in the camps today have become accustomed to the blanket food assistance the WFP provides, for example.

“In hindsight, it’s 20/20 vision,” Burnett said.

“You could always argue that it’s possible that we could have done some of these approaches earlier. And I think in an ideal world you can probably say that yes, it is.”

— Alastair Burnett, DfID’s humanitarian adviser in Sudan

But it is important, he said, to recognize that organizations are increasingly seeing the importance of moving toward this kind of assistance, which is more focused on individuals’ vulnerability rather than their status as an internally displaced person. Burnett attributes the push, in part, to the use of technology in the field. The use of biometrics registration, for example, makes it easier now for organizations to track households, and provides a good basis for when organizations work on their programs or strategies.

There’s also a push coming from donors like DfID, amid pressures on aid budgets, he said.

“It’s time consuming. It means you have to … make some difficult decisions in terms of who benefits and who doesn’t. But for us, certainly, we are keen to continue, to push new approaches [on things] we can do differently, which kind of better reflects the kind of context we work here,” he said.

DfID is “keen” to promote greater use of unconditional cash transfers in programming in Sudan, Burnett said, giving people more purchasing power, although this would require organizations to establish a more rigorous process on monitoring, making sure the money is used to meet family needs.

Working with the private sector

From donor to partner: 5 key pieces of advice

What do donors really mean when they champion innovation, and what do they expect in terms of coordination? Devex gleaned a few of the more unspoken donor requirements during a recent conversation with a technical expert for ECHO and a humanitarian adviser for DfID in Sudan.

ECHO, like DfID, is on board with the idea of doing things differently in Sudan. Encouraging organizations to work more closely with the private sector, for example, which “is not a bad word in our environment,” according to ECHO’s Cazaubon.

But there are “inadequate incentives for private sector investment and participation” in Sudan, according to a country overview by the World Bank.

Cazaubon cautions against focusing too readily on development work when humanitarian needs still loom in the country, and its profile is changing every year. For example, right now, some important percentages of donors’ support is actually going to refugees coming from South Sudan.

Direct access to affected populations, permanent presence of NGOs on the ground and regular technical monitoring remain issues, which Cazaubon said are still some of the major constraints ECHO hears from its partners.

“Darfur is a huge region with many geographical and contextual specificities. During some periods of the year, it’s just impossible to access certain areas due to challenging road conditions or security concerns,” he said, adding organizational capacity of the different implementing partners and agencies as another issue.

“Staff are available, but maybe not sufficiently, as less and less humanitarian workers can be found on the ground, from more than 15,000 individuals in 2010 to 5,500 in 2014,” he said.

This is important, for example, when addressing malnutrition in the camps, which is a priority area for ECHO. Cazaubon said more humanitarian workers are needed on the ground in order to scale up nutrition services, but it’s hard to find well-trained health workers who can stay for a longer period of time.

“We are very concerned when a nutrition facility is to be closed, because of lack of funding or because the partner is leaving for whatever reason with no handover to the [Sudan Ministry of Health]. This can happen.”

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About the author

  • Ravelo jennylei

    Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.