July 6, 2011 3:34 am

Increased – and improved – aid effort is vital for the future of South Sudan

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From Mr Kevin Watkins.

Sir, Your editorial “Sudan’s partition faces rocky road” (July 4) rightly highlights the many threats facing the people of South Sudan, but it understates the opportunities for international co-operation to support their efforts in building a better future.

The scale of the challenge can hardly be over-stated. This is a country emerging from a civil war that claimed more than 2m lives. It lacks institutions of state and systems for delivery of basic services. Maternal mortality rates are the highest in the world. One in three children is malnourished. Less than half get to primary school. With a population larger than that of London, just 400 of South Sudan’s girls make it to the last grade of secondary school.

If South Sudan is to escape the failed state future that your editorial fears, it needs two things – a sustained peace and a development strategy that delivers results. The international community has a vital role to play on both fronts.

An immediate priority is the prevention of a renewed north-south conflict. Khartoum’s recent exercises in ethnic cleansing and attacks on civilians provide a worrying portent for the future, and they merit a robust response. Western governments should suspend negotiations on debt relief and the normalisation of relations with the International Monetary Fund. But the key to successful diplomacy is engagement with Beijing, whose commercial interests on both sides of the border are clearly threatened by President Omar al-Bashir’s actions.

Failed development will pose its own threats to peace. The government of South Sudan has to build its legitimacy by converting (temporary) oil wealth into (permanent) human development assets, such as health, education and economic infrastructure, while at the same time building democracy and tackling corruption. But an increased – and improved – aid effort is vital.

Since the 2005 peace agreement, aid donors have squandered opportunities on a grand scale. Resources allocated to the pooled fund created under the agreement to finance investments in schools, health clinics and roads have been left unspent. The reason: ludicrously stringent spending conditions applied by the World Bank. The wider aid effort suffers from fragmentation, poor co-ordination, chronic short-termism in financing and – bluntly stated – weak leadership. None of the ingredients that made for successful post-conflict reconstruction in countries such as Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Mozambique is in place.

Of course, aid donors face immense challenges in South Sudan. But there is a big prize at stake. A bold aid effort backed by long-term financing would not just save lives, combat the waste and suffering caused by hunger, and put millions of children into school. It would also bring hope into the lives of a people who have suffered enough – and who have a right to expect something better from the international community.

Kevin Watkins,

Director, Education for All Global Monitoring Report,

Unesco,

Paris, France

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