The Crisis in South Sudan can’t be solved with more money. We need peace.

Holly Young
Naomi Larsson
Anna Leach
Rachel Banning-Lover
Katherine Purvis
The Guardian
Publication Year:
April 30, 2020
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

This opinion argues that the international community must take notice of the crisis in South Sudan to more effectively coordinate a response to its humanitarian crisis including issues such as famine and water insecurity. The opinion concludes that the mechanism that could best mediate the conflict would be through negotiations, not solely monetary aid from distant international groups.


I’ve worked in humanitarian response for decades but this has been the most challenging assignment I’ve ever been given.

The situation has been getting bleaker every day since the beginning of the crisis in 2013. The only thing that exists in the country at the moment is humanitarian aid and that is being cut left, right and centre. Currently, we only receive 8% of the funding needed for our humanitarian assistance plan and most of that goes towards food aid. But focusing on food aid is short sighted: last year we had an endemic malaria problem and we are worried about cholera this year. Because of the funding situation we are waiting for these things to happen rather than preparing for them.

We are not seeing more donors come on board and we’re not getting the funding required to keep our programmes going. While donors have been generous in the past there is a frustration at the lack of progress in the peace process, so they are cautious about coming in.

It’s a bleak outlook. In 2016, humanitarians expect the need to be higher than in the previous two years of conflict. Meanwhile, we all understand and expect that funding will be lower, partly due to other dire humanitarian crises. So there’s more need globally. But early spending is super-critical in areas of high need, because once the rainy season begins, which is likely to be in April, 60% of the country will be inaccessible by road, which leads to more expensive air operations – they’re always more costly than by truck or barge.

Conditions for civilians continue to be very difficult, yet it severely lacks media attention. I saw in the New York Times recently that in America, in all of 2015, there was no mention of South Sudan in the weekly evening news shows. Global awareness of the crisis is small, but 6.1 million people are in need in a country of 11 million people. Out of that, humanitarians are reaching 5.1 million people.

And it’s clear that humanitarian needs are getting worse; there are fears that Unity state could hit famine conditions. With no access to food, prolonged displacement, limited humanitarian access, there’s a major concern about it. People don’t throw the word famine around lightly. It’s not a fundraising tool.

The US announced another $173m for food assistance in South Sudan in December 2015 and has delivered 257,000 metric tonnes of food assistance over the last two years – that’s the equivalent of back-to-back trucks from New York to Philadelphia.

The situation in South Sudan can’t just be solved with more money, though. We need peace to take hold. The government signed a peace agreement in August but they haven’t implemented it. On the ground, that translates to having safe access to an area one week but not the next. Our implementing partners do phenomenal work but everyone is limited in what they can do until peace takes hold.

We are disappointed in where we are with the government. It’s not acting in the best interests of the people. The South Sudanese had coping mechanisms, like the livestock they owned, when this crisis started in 2013 but these resources have been heavily depleted, so we’re very concerned about food security.

Humanitarian requirements around the world are really high at the moment and I can’t speak on behalf of other donors, but we very much urge all donors to continue providing meaningful contributions to this crisis. Yet, at the same time, South Sudan’s military and political leaders need to do more.

The situation remains extremely volatile. South Sudan is the only country where the ICRC airdrops food. Since this new conflict erupted we have distributed more than 1.6m food rations, mainly by air, which gives you an idea of the desperate situation people are in.

It is an expensive humanitarian situation to run because waterways are difficult to use – there’s the Nile but that’s it. There are very few roads. Humanitarian aid costs seven times more in South Sudan than it costs in Somalia – which is not an easy context either.

South Sudan has been our biggest operation in Africa for the second year now, and the second biggest worldwide after Syria. So it is a huge budget – $130m.

While many refugees travel to Europe and great attention is paid to their plight (as it should be) the world seems to forget the millions of South Sudanese IDPs [internally displaced people] and refugees. Humanitarian actors in South Sudan are aware of a bitter reality and we’re trying to be realistic rather than asking for funds we know we aren’t likely to get. This year’s appeal is based on the absolute minimum we need to save lives.

We have been lobbying the donor community to shift from a short-term reactive funding approach towards a more sustainable, proactive and transformative approach that will change the status quo. Luckily, donors are starting to respond to this. DfID [Department for International Development], for example, is now moving towards a multi-year humanitarian funding model which means that the aid agencies they fund will be able to do more to support people’s needs and strengthen their ability to absorb and adapt to ongoing and future shocks.

But the bottom line is that – in order to avoid seeing a catastrophe unfold in front of our eyes – the donor community must urgently release fresh funds now – otherwise it might be too late for many.


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