Juba — A 2005 deal to end decades of civil war in southern Sudan led many to hope that conflict-related humanitarian relief would gradually give way to the peace dividend of development aid and economic growth.
Eight years later, emergency needs in the now-independent South Sudan remain overwhelming, with aid agencies calling for more than a billion dollars to tackle them in 2013.
"One key question," Humanitarian Coordinator Toby Lanzer wrote in the May edition of Humanitarian Exchange magazine, is "how we can continue to respond to emergencies without losing sight of longer-term development needs".
It is a difficult balance to strike, said Jok Madut Jok, South Sudan's undersecretary for culture and heritage. He joined Lanzer on a panel organized last week by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI).
"The need for humanitarian action has become the face of the whole country" and draws the majority of the donor funding, Jok said.
That is largely because, after less than two years of independence, South Sudan's humanitarian needs remain enormous.
The 2013 Consolidated Appeal (CAP) for the country, which combines requests from 114 different NGOs and UN agencies, predicts at least 4.6 million people - out of the estimated population of 11.8 million - will require assistance this year.
That includes more than 4.1 million people who need food assistance and 350,000 refugees from places like Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
It will cost $1.16 billion to assist 3.3 million of those people this year, the organizations estimate.
But government officials and aid agencies say they want to do more with the money than just meet immediate needs. They are calling for a shift towards concurrently promoting long-term development, like improving infrastructure and building the capacity of local communities, so the country will eventually be able to escape the cycle of humanitarian crises.
Balancing humanitarian response and development
Kuol Manyang Juuk, the governor of Jonglei State, has been at the forefront of one of the country's major humanitarian crises; for more than a year, Jonglei-based rebel leader David Yau Yau has been attempting to overthrow the government. As many as 190,000 people in the state required humanitarian assistance in 2012, according to the UN.
Still, Juuk told IRIN, he does not want to see aid agencies restricted to delivering emergency health and nutrition services. He wants them to help his government build roads. "We need to connect counties and communities," he said at the ODI panel.
By linking communities and encouraging trade, these projects would provide jobs and ease tensions as people - especially youth - become more invested in maintaining stability. "That's the main thing. If we don't do it, hostilities will continue," he said.
This emphasis, Lanzer wrote, must be adopted across all of South Sudan.
By focusing too exclusively on humanitarian responses, actors "fail to address the underlying causes that undermine sustainable livelihoods, agricultural production and economic growth, and perpetuate the pattern of emergency. In supporting the world's newest country, we need to help South Sudanese avert crises, not merely respond to them."
Lanzer said the UN is promoting concurrent humanitarian and development responses. As aid agencies distribute food, for example, they are encouraged to link up with other groups to develop school feeding programmes, which keep children in school, or to use food assistance as a stimulus to get communities to build roads.
While the main focus is delivering food to the millions of food-insecure South Sudanese, these programmes can be "a springboard to address some of the underlying challenges," Lanzer said.
It is easier to obtain money to respond to crises than funding for long-term development work, Lanzer noted. More than half of all official development assistance South Sudan receives is slated for humanitarian projects, he said.
And even that money might be drying up, according to Nick Helton, the coordinator for the South Sudan NGO Forum Secretariat.
South Sudan's size and lack of physical infrastructure make it difficult for aid workers to reach some of the most remote communities. This contributes to the size of the country's CAP, which is the second highest in the world behind Somalia's.
Helton says South Sudan is "seeing some fatigue in the donor community because of high operating costs." So far, only 45 percent of this year's CAP has been funded.
All of which makes the need for concurrent development work even more pressing: In their 2013 Humanitarian Implementation Plan, the European Commission's humanitarian aid department (ECHO) said the cost of providing assistance is unlikely to shrink without long-term development projects to reduce the scale of the country's humanitarian need.
The concurrent humanitarian-development approach jibes with what South Sudanese want, Jok said. While international reports about South Sudan focus on food shortages and ethnic conflict, local and national governments, working with aid agencies, are actually making progress towards improving road networks and cell phone coverage.
School enrolment has grown from 300,000 in 2005 to 1.8 million last year. People are working to improve their situations and begin rebuilding, Jok said. "We are a society that can weather these crises."
These concurrent programmes must be implemented more broadly, according to Lanzer. "No one is suggesting" the country's humanitarian needs will end within the next year or two, he said. "But it has to be on our radar screen."
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.]