I came to South Sudan in September 2011 and it took me only a month and a half to realise that many donor agencies pay too little attention to the complexities of relief and development challenges in South Sudan.
I work for a humanitarian organisation which has been in South Sudan since 1998. We respond to disasters such as the earthquake in Haiti and the Tsunami in Sri Lanka, and it is easy to see that the situation in South Sudan is quite different. There is no 5 year relief plan followed by a swift exit for agencies in South Sudan – the emergencies are endemic and triggered by a multitude of inter-related and compounding issues.
However, after all this time, after 14 years of operation in South Sudan, many institutional donors still insist on providing only one year humanitarian funding. Furthermore, donors often prefer to fund only one sector (Health, WASH or Nutrition etc.), preventing the implementation of integrated approaches to alleviating South Sudan’s many challenges. To run an effective and integrated programme of activities in an area of South Sudan it is necessary to have three or more donors contributing to that programme, necessitating three times as much reporting and three times as many staff to synthesise the financial, logistical and programmatic data whilst subsequently packaging it under three different donors’ reporting requirements.
There are other challenges as well. Annual funding involves extensive annual reporting, meaning at any one stage throughout the year reports are being prepared for an array of donors. Furthermore, since funding only lasts one year, finances have barely been released before it is again time to start planning for the next proposal. The constant uncertainty over funding can result in service delivery gaps, as many organisations do not have enough core-funding to support programmes during the time it takes for donors to consider proposals and release funds. Field-staff await redundancy letters at the end of each funding period, creating stress and tension amongst teams and making it difficult for NGOs to retain good staff and preventing NGOs from reaping the rewards sown into their staff through capacity building and training.
But the difficulties are not only institutional. It is almost impossible to deliver a project with all the necessary stages; needs assessment, community participation in planning; community cooperation; and, community ownership over joint inputs such as boreholes, latrines and health clinics, within the year timeframe that the funding allows. As Oxfam states in a 2011 South Sudan briefing paper, Getting it right from the start, these sorts of community engagement activities – those which are necessary for development initiatives to succeed – take time.
In South Sudan we still do not know what ‘normal’ rates of malnutrition are nationwide, but year upon year, communities’ malnutrition rates still exceed SPHERE Standards. Sporadic, violent and very complex conflict continues within South Sudan and between South Sudan and Sudan, displacing hundreds of thousands of people annually. In an environment where conflict of this sort is an annual occurrence it is difficult to encourage communities to invest in livelihood strategies. But, equally, stability will not arise from a South Sudan where 48% of the country is moderately or severely food insecure and 85% of Basic Services are delivered by an NGO community which is bound by inefficient funding structures. There is no panacea for addressing the vast developmental challenges faced by South Sudan, and NGOs alone are certainly not the answer. However, a strategic and intentional move by donors along the continuum from humanitarian towards long-term development assistance is fundamental for ensuring that no more money is wasted on quick fixes nor reductionistic donor priorities.