Plea for help to school young Sudan in peace.

Plea for help to school young Sudan in peace.

Chronic conflict has destroyed the social fabric – the institutions sustaining food, security, education and healthcare – in the south, leaving two generations of Sudanese dependent on relief. It has also made them vulnerable to the war economies that sustain the conflict. Poverty is extensive, deep and growing. Underdevelopment has become institutionalised. Southern Sudan now constitutes one of the most glaring examples of development failure in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa.

The tragedy and scandal of Sudan’s poverty and underdevelopment is not that nothing can be done, but rather the opposite. Many of the country’s problems can be addressed. Key aspects of development can be promoted, especially people-focused development. Despite severe constraints, civil society and community institutions in southern Sudan have arisen and undertaken notable initiatives. Even in the context of continuing war and conflict, non-governmental agencies have access to most of the people for most of the time, and have attempted to expand their activities from relief to longer-term development. There are sizeable pockets of peace within southern Sudan where such development investment does not risk being disrupted by fighting.

Plea for help to school young Sudan in peace.

Local development initiatives can be supported, people can be trained and educated, community institutions and administrative structures can be built and strengthened, and poverty can be reduced. The lack of books, of pencils and chalks, a lack of trained teachers, the absence of teachers’ pay, and the lack of an effective administration have stopped children from learning in southern Sudan. More than one generation of children has been denied the right to education in the south. We cannot and must not allow further generations of children to be denied their right to education, too.

Many donors, including Britain’s Department for International Development, will provide only limited development funding while the war continues. They may have coherent arguments to defend this policy: they may wish to avoid the diversion of aid towards further military purchases fuelling the war, and to use aid as a lever to move the warring parties towards a peace settlement.

Our interpretation of the British government’s current policy of reduced development assistance while the war continues is that it has done little to further the pursuit of peace. It cannot be justified once its real costs are measured in terms of the deepening poverty and suffering of the southern Sudanese.

There is a growing body of civil organisations in Sudan investing in the development of their war-ravaged communities; they could receive increased assistance to sustain their efforts. Investment in longer-term development, particularly in education and health services, would sow the seeds for peace and prepare a generation of people to build reconciliation and peace once an agreement is reached. Development is essential to reduce the need for relief and to lay the foundation for peace. Development is imperative to give hope to generations of Sudanese who have little to look forward to now.

Britain has a particular moral responsibility to be at the forefront of international development efforts in southern Sudan – because of its historical links with Sudan, because of its stated commitment to poverty reduction and education for all, and because of its commitment to human rights.

We British non-governmental organisations working in southern Sudan acknowledge the British government and the EU’s recent efforts to review their policies on aid to Sudan and urge them to expand their development assistance significantly. We call for a three-track approach from the British government.

The government needs to sustain and step up its efforts to promote a negotiated solution to the conflict, based on the Igad declaration of principles [agreed by the government and rebels in 1993 as a basis to negotiate peace], on behalf of the people of Sudan. The government needs to sustain the provision of humanitarian assistance to people still in dire need, respecting the obligations of international humanitarian law.

We call urgently on the government to respond now to the development disaster in the Sudan, and to provide people-centred development assistance to help lay the foundation for a sustainable future for the people there. This should be provided through local civil society and other bodies, and not through any warring party.

Without increased assistance from the government and the EU, the current work done by non-governmental agencies supporting peoples’ livelihoods, building resilience, reducing vulnerability to conflict and addressing development need will remain inadequate.

We urge the British government to be in the vanguard of international donor efforts to tell the story of southern Sudan’s development disaster and to respond to it with vigour. We can – and must – address the problem now.