Is the crisis in Sudan evidence of aid community’s attention-deficit disorder?

Celebrating new nationhood in Juba, South Sudan

Not that long ago, the world was celebrating South Sudan as the world’s newest nation. Actor George Clooney set up satellites to try to monitor activities and encourage best behavior.

But things have gotten worse. As the Washington Post reports, more than 120,000 people are now in need of humanitarian assistance due to ethnic conflict. CNN quotes top officials warning of famine in Sudan as the violence makes aid and relief more difficult:

“There is a looming humanitarian disaster in Sudan,” said Princeton Lyman, United States envoy to Sudan. Lyman said a lack of leadership, history of ethnic violence and the indictment of Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court are all factors that have complicated the crisis in that country.

Last week, I spoke to a Seattle man from South Sudan for his perspective on the internal conflict, and the reasons for the cycles of violence and instability. He had been accused by some of raising funds in support of tribal violence back home.

There are lots of theories, or episodes of finger-pointing, aimed at explaining why things are going sideways in Sudan.

But one reason may be the international community’s attention-deficit response to such crises.

The Guardian has an op-ed by the director of Refugees International, Michel Gabaudan, who argues that we don’t know how to shift from an emergency response sprint to a longer-term, deliberative development marathon run:

During Sudan’s long north-south civil war, international humanitarian agencies got used to providing vital basic services (such as healthcare) for the civilian population in the south. When the war finally ended, and South Sudan became independent last July, the needs of its population began to change. The aid community’s response should have changed as well.

It’s an interesting article that examines the international community’s tendency, however well-intentioned, to respond to immediate emergencies but then fail to support the changes — economic, social, political — needed to make for lasting positive change. Concludes Gabaudan:

As we have seen in South Sudan and elsewhere, this failure to bridge the gap from humanitarian to development assistance can prevent people from rebuilding their lives. The human toll of conflicts and disasters is too high as it is. What the world needs is an aid system that can respond quickly to those crises, and provide effective development assistance – and seamlessly bridge the two so that no more lives are threatened.

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Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.