Even though conflict – the major driver of the crisis in Sudan – is subsiding and there is improved access for relief workers, humanitarian assistance “is not the answer” to the challenges plaguing the country, the United Nations top relief official has said.
Concluding his first visit to the country as the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock underscored that development is ultimately the key to breaking the cycle of humanitarian emergencies in Sudan.
Across the African country, about 7.1 million people depend on humanitarian assistance – many of them displaced due to fighting, but also other factors such as chronic poverty and food insecurity; together with a lack of basic services and livelihoods.
In Part 2 of our exclusive interview with Mr. Lowcock, who is also the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, he describes what he saw on the ground in Sudan, and what the UN needs to do going forward.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
UN News: You have just come back from a visit to Sudan. Can you tell us about the situation on the ground? What are the most pressing humanitarian concerns?
Mark Lowcock: This is my first visit to Sudan as the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator. It is a country I have been visiting, one way or another, for more than 35 years and the thing I was most struck by in this visit […] is that the humanitarian situation is getting more difficult in a way that – I think, most people in the world, in the decision-making community, if you like – have not really understood.
Humanitarian situation is getting more difficult in a way that – I think, most people in the world – haven’t really understood
The conflict which was the driver of many of humanitarian problems for most of the last 15 years in Sudan has died down quite a lot and certainly there has been quite a lot of progress in calming things down in Darfur and other parts of the country as well. It is not all over, but that is no longer the biggest problem. Access for aid agencies used to be a big problem, no longer the case.
The issue now is – for a variety of reasons, including economic challenges that Sudan faces and because other crises are absorbing more of the attention – humanitarian needs are growing and our resources, available to deal with them, is slowing.
We have a growing gap between the needs and our ability to meet them. My biggest takeaway was that we need to draw the attention of the world to this problem and try and get more support for the Government of Sudan in dealing with it.
UN News: The humanitarian response plan for Sudan requires $1.4 billion, but with almost half the year gone less than 20 per cent has actually been pledged. What are the implications if there is a massive resource shortfall?
Mark Lowcock: More children will be hungry; fewer will go to school; fewer will get the life-saving medical help they, and especially their mothers, need; and our ability to sustain livelihoods will be eroded.
So, there is a very real and direct cost in terms of human suffering if we cannot for the rest of the year do better in raising resources to help those people.
UN News: Sudan has been facing waves after waves of humanitarian crises. What role can development actors play to break this recurrent cycle of emergencies?
Mark Lowcock: Humanitarian assistance can reduce the suffering and stabilize the situation, but ultimately for solutions, humanitarian assistance is not the answer.
There are three things that need to happen:
Humanitarian assistance can reduce the suffering and stabilize the situation, but ultimately for solutions, humanitarian assistance is not the answer
We need to deal with conflict, and as I say there has been good progress on that in the recent past in Sudan; We need to promote political processes and help countries develop political systems so that Governments are able to be accountable and responsive to their own people; and then crucially, the most important thing of all we need to help countries develop faster.
Richer countries are able to deal, obviously, better than poorer ones with the needs of their most vulnerable citizens and Sudan’s biggest problem is that there are very large number of people right on the margins of existence, suffering enormously – who the Government does not have enough resources to provide health care, education, livelihoods for and other sorts of support for.
So, development is the long-term solution to Sudan’s humanitarian problem, as it is in many other places.