NGOs cross fingers over South Sudan donor conference

Børge Brende, Norwegian minister of foreign affairs and Valerie Amos, United Nations humanitarian chief shake hands during the opening of the high-level pledging conference for South Sudan in Oslo, Norway. Photo by: Espen Røst / Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs / CC BY-NC-ND

Funding hasn't always been a problem in South Sudan, labeled as the West's “donor darling” following its independence from Sudan in 2011.

But that's at least until the latest conflict sparked by a failed coup broke out in December, prompting aid agencies to scramble to meet huge humanitarian needs amid rising insecurity and lack of access. Their aid supplies have been looted, staff members intimidated and killed, and they have had to spend more on logistics like airlifts, draining their budgets even further.

Amid all these challenges, donor response has been lukewarm, "inadequate" and even "disappointing," many aid officials Devex have spoken to for the past few months have argued. An initial crisis response plan appeal of $1.27 billion now raised to $1.8 billion has only been 33 percent funded — and this does not cover the needs of refugees who have fled into Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya and Uganda. Only 22 percent of the more than $370 million refugee response plan has been met to date, according to the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

This is why humanitarian agencies are crossing their fingers and hoping that donors meeting this week at the latest pledging conference in Oslo, Norway, will finally commit enough funds. The United States is expected to pledge $300 million, of which $50 million is for the refugee response plan, while Norway and Britain have announced $63 million and 60 million pounds, respectively.

GOAL CEO Barry Andrews said this would be "a means to an end" for the more than 7 million people at risk of violence, hunger and disease in the crumbling nation, where Oxfam recently sounded the alarm over a cholera outbreak in Juba, and the U.N. Population Fund is concerned about the poor availability of reproductive health services for many displaced civilians that is worsening the already high maternal mortality rate.

Fighting must stop for aid to work

In any case, it’s clear that the donor conference will only be a short-term fix to a humanitarian crisis that has spiraled out of control, although aid officials note it is a start, a positive step.

For the fresh pledges to be used effectively, the fighting between government forces and rebels must first end, or else, Andrews said, aid delivery would continue to be costly, difficult and “hazardous” for aid workers, foreign or local.

Just two weeks ago, the warring parties in South Sudan again promised to open humanitarian corridors, facilitating access and to consider a month-long ceasefire for aid workers to preposition supplies ahead of the impending rainy season. But whether this time the agreement will be honored remains a big question. In the past few months, ceasefires have been violated almost as fast as they were being announced.

On Monday, several plenary sessions discussed key humanitarian concerns across South Sudan: better delivery of aid, the resources needed, civilian protection and the role of UNMISS, and how to deal with the refugee situation in neighboring countries.

Natalia Chan, Christian Aid's senior advocacy and policy officer for East Africa, and Amos Ndiri, country manager for South Sudan, told Devex these sessions would "affect how money will be used effectively."

“[We] are calling for all donors (traditional and nontraditional) to give aid that is proportional to the size of their economy in a transparent way … the crisis gets worse day by day, and the outlook for the end of the year is extremely bleak,” they said.

Donors busy

While some aid groups are advocating for donors to direct funding to NGOs that have access and can absorb funding, others are asking donors to continue their support for development projects run by "legitimate" national NGOs and civil society organizations.

It may be a bit too much to hope the current requirements be met in full, especially during a very busy week of other conferences and events. For instance, the African Development Bank was unable to send a delegate to Oslo because the Tunis-based institution is having its week-long annual meeting in Kigali. Jeremiah Mutonga, AfDB’s representative in Juba, told Devex how they plan to discuss the situation in South Sudan.

"[The meeting] is intended to take stock of government and donor successes and failures with a view to avoiding the mistakes of the past that could have bred conditions that led to the current crisis and agree on the way forward. The bank will be revising its country assistance strategy and would like to benefit from government and key stakeholders on how best to support South Sudan," he said.

AfDB's work in South Sudan centers on development projects, such as human and institutional capacity building, and addressing the infrastructure deficit in the country.

Just a month before the conflict erupted in Juba, the South Sudanese government was working on a new compact with donors aimed at helping the country overcome fragility. During that time, an economic policy adviser at the the Ministry of Finance noted raising additional funds was not a priority. Today, it's clear that mindset has changed.

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See more:

Donors, NGOs scrambling to meet funding needs in South Sudan
In South Sudan, no point now to ‘wait and see’
What foreign aid got wrong in South Sudan
Even after ceasefire, challenges remain for NGOs in South Sudan
Top 3 challenges for aid work in volatile South Sudan
Insecurity blamed for procurement delays in South Sudan

About the author

  • 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.