Sudanese count losses as NGOs pull out
One month since the withdrawal of some 12 international NGOs from southern Sudan due to a disagreement with the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA), the local civilians are counting their losses in many ways.
In the agriculturally endowed Western Equatorial region, at least 300 local people have been rendered jobless following the withdrawal of World Vision International, Care International and Oxfam alone. With the loss of jobs has gone a combined massive purchasing power for all kind of goods and services available in the region. The local money economy is gradually grinding to a halt as the US dollars and the Uganda currencies that the NGOs used to pump into this area bordering Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have disappeared with the exit of the donor-funded organisations.
“The situation has been compounded by the fact that the few local Sudanese pounds in circulation, are physically worn out,” says Brother Declan Power, a teacher at Yambio (about 1,600 kilometres southwest of Khartoum.
The supply of Sudanese pounds cannot be replenished because of the current lack of links between the central government in Khartoum and the SPLA territory. In any case, the old Sudanese pound has long been replaced by the Dinar in the government-controlled areas.
The situations of the loss of jobs for the local people coupled with the resultant loss of purchasing power translate for practically every area where the NGOs have withdrawn. In addition to providing a handful of skilled manpower, all the NGOs employ several local people as support staff. Many are the Sudanese who have made positive gains towards self reliance as result of being engaged by NGOs as clerks, drivers, cooks, groundsmen and cleaners.
In Western Equatoria, grain stores are choking with excess stock as a grain-purchasing project that World Vision had put in place has all but collapsed. Brother Power laments that amidst the thriving trade, the local people were never taught how to effectively market their produce, hence in the absence of the NGOs, a lot of people simply do not know what to do with their surplus produce. Yet the climatic varieties as well as the people's cultural diversity in the vast area provide a huge potential for inter-regional trade.
Brother Power says that marketing skills for the civilians is one area, which the SPLA must address with a lot of seriousness to demonstrate the movement's commitment to empowering the local populations. “Whenever there is adequate security and the weather conditions are favourable, it would be much cheaper to ferry relief food into Bahr el Ghazal from Western Equatoria,” he says.
Other NGOs which refused to sign the controversial Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) and opted to pull out after the March 1 deadline were Carter Centre, German Agro Action (GAA), MSF-Holland, MDM, Healthnet International, VSF-Germany, VSF-Belgium and Save the Children Fund (UK). The standoff over the document also saw the European Union suspend aid to the SPLA territory, meaning that even the NGOs which have opted to remain but depend on the EU in one way or another, have had their operations adversely affected.
The Union, through ECHO, provides 20-25 million Euros in funds to Sudan each year, of which about 2/3 is for southern Sudan. ECHO estimates that about 50 per cent of its programmes to southern Sudan have been lost as a result of the standoff. On the other hand, the withdrawal of the 12 international NGOs is said to have deprived southern Sudan of programmes worth US$ 32 million serving 1.6 million people.
Practically, every region and all communities in the SPLA territory are bearing the brunt of the disagreement, a culmination of nine months of negotiations between the NGOs and the SPLA.
It is feared that the worst could yet be on the way. In the health sector, for instance, with the termination of preventive health activities like provision of sanitation and clean drinking water, it is expected that there will be an upsurge on preventable diseases which will put additional pressure on the already over-stretched medical facilities.
The failure to distribute viable seeds and agricultural tools to the people at the onset of the rains is likely to result into poor yields at the end of the year and hence a recurrence of famine, probably akin to what was experienced in the Bahr el Ghazal region two years ago. Lack of or inadequate technical services to the farmers will not make the situation any better. In 1998, Sudan suffered the worst famine in a decade, which prompted the largest relief operation in the history of the United Nations Organisation. The human disaster claimed an estimated 200, 000 people.
Observers believe that the current famine in the Horn of Africa will not affect Sudan as badly as some other countries, but there will be pockets of serious famine in Upper Nile, Bahr el-Ghazal and Eastern Equatoria, exacerbated by displacement of people from Upper Nile due to the conflict around the oilfields.
Livestock sector, the mainstay of the economy in the vast Bahr el Ghazal and Eastern Equatoria regions will suffer the consequences of lack of veterinary services. Lack of adequate watering points is expected to aggravate the situation.
Not even education sector will be spared. In the famine-prone areas, most of the schools are only able to run effectively alongside effective feeding programmes. The moment the feeding programme is disrupted education also suffers.
To some people, the disagreement could mark the new chapter of independence on the part of the southern Sudanese and an end to the dependency syndrome---just what the SPLA reckons is one of the principle objectives of the MOU. However, there can be no denying that whereas such a state should be the ultimate goal of all international agencies interested in helping the Sudanese, it cannot be attained overnight. It is a process that can only be realised gradually.
Already, there is immense pressure on the 49 NGOs remaining in Sudan, along with UN agencies and ICRC to cover the shortfall. Some programmes belonging to the NGOs which withdrew are already being implemented by the remaining NGOs, thus reducing the impact of the withdrawal. Whether this is sustainable or not, only time will tell. Equally under pressure are the churches, which now have to invest additional energy and resources in the provision of humanitarian services.
It is against the above background that the Christian communities have taken the initiative to appeal to ECHO to resume funding to the NGOs still offering humanitarian services in the SPLA territory.
The Christians, through the New Sudan Council of Churches and the Sudan Catholic Bishops' Regional Conference, have also appealed to the SPLA and the NGOs to expedite their search for a mutually acceptable settlement on the MOU.
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