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Early recovery from conflict: the challenges of integrating humanitarian and development frameworks

Time (GMT +00) 13:00 14:30

H.E. Luka Biong Deng - Minister in the Office of the President, Government of Southern Sudan

Ameerah Haq - Deputy Special Representative to the UN Secretary General, UN Mission in Sudan UNMIS

Koen Davidse
- Sudan Envoy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Netherlands

Sara Pantuliano - Programme Leader, ODI

Sara Pantuliano opened the meeting, the sixth of a series on fragile states, by emphasising the well-known challenges of integrating humanitarian and development frameworks in settings transitioning from conflict to peace. Such challenges are particularly evident in Southern Sudan, where promoting ‘recovery’ does not fit neatly into humanitarian or development ways of operating; it is a grey area with a poorly defined aid architecture. Given the dilemmas in balancing priorities like rapidly scaling up basic services, promoting stabilisation and building an effective state, this meeting looks at trade-offs between different approaches and how aid architecture and organisational constraints can be overcome in Southern Sudan and beyond.

Luka Biong Deng
Luka Biong Deng began his presentation by emphasising the importance of addressing state fragility and conflict. Of the 32 Chronically Deprived Countries (CDCs) some 22 are classified as ‘fragile states’ and 19 have experienced major conflicts since 1970. Because of the need to address conflict, the focus has widened from simply linking relief and development to integrating aid and security.

Three post-conflict challenges were highlighted: health and mortality; economic costs of conflict and political costs, with specific examples from Southern Sudan. Southern Sudan has the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. The economic costs of conflict and security have stifled development; even after the peace agreement, security expenditures have not shifted to addressing poverty and development.

Responding to these challenges requires a mix of approaches. Humanitarian assistance has played an important role in Southern Sudan, particularly through Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS), by helping consolidate livelihoods, securing access and encouraging early recovery through working through Southern Sudan institutions.  

Recovery is crucial because it combines the need to promote a functioning state but also to meet humanitarian needs. Ending the war itself is key part of bridging divides between different approaches, and a peace agreement should create the basis of a viable social contract. Expectations must also be managed because high expectations can lead to disappointment and create instability, which is presently occurring in Southern Sudan. The Joint Assessment Mission (JAM) focused strongly on pro-poor spending and poverty reduction, but did not sufficiently factor in humanitarian needs and responding to displacement.  

Various mechanisms were established for bridging the humanitarian and development agendas: Capacity Building Trust Fund (CBTF), Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF), Basic Services Fund (BSF), Sudan Recovery Fund (SRF), and the Multi-Donor Trust Funds (MDTFs). In Southern Sudan many lessons were learned the hard way about the need for appropriate funding at the appropriate time, as numerous mechanisms were adjusted and more were created as the limitations of the MDTFs became clear, resulting in lost time and assistance being programmed in a very scattered manner that did not correspond to needs.

Early recovery presents the following challenges and trade-offs:

  • Provision of security
    • Security vs. social services
    • Quantity (dealing with militia) vs. quality (modern force)
    • Voluntary vs. forced disarmament  (regional dimension)
    • DDR vs. more forces  
    • Decentralization vs. deconcentration of services
    • State vs. community security (traditional authority)
    • Justice vs. reconciliation (dealing with the past)
  • Establishing and strengthening security
    • High expectations vs. low capacity (disappointment)
    • Legitimacy vs. deliverables
    • Military mindset vs. civil mindset
    • Appointed vs. elected leaders (power sharing)
    • Elections vs. status quo (institutional building)
    • Traditional authority vs. formal authority (local legitimacy)
    • Macro vs. micro peace building (social capital)  
  • Making the state function
    • Establishing Public Service
    • Decentralization
    • Service Delivery and Capacity
    • Accountability

Luka Biong Deng concluded his presentation by emphasising that the challenges to peace and security, particularly in the early stages of a post-conflict transition, are central to recovery. Assistance should focus on these challenges and then focus how to build a sustainable revenue base. Partners and donors need to be realistic and not raise high expectations. Funding also needs to be predictable and aligned with government priorities.

Ameerah Haq
Ameerah Haq started her presentation on managing recovery challenges in Sudan by noting that, while humanitarian and development assistance are not a linear transition, a gap is created when they interact. Humanitarian assistance typically bypasses national ownership as it is driven by the humanitarian imperative of getting assistance to people as quickly as possible. Upon reaching a peace agreement, development assistance is increased, which is nationally owned, focuses on poverty reduction and building capacity and is guided by the Paris Principles. A gap does exist when the two phases interact, as humanitarian assistance declines and develop assistance increases.  Critical decisions must be taken about how to make a transition in assistance in terms of timing, sequencing, priorities and managing expectations.

Six key interventions and priorities in post-conflict environments are:

  • Assessing the needs: what do you need to do?
  • Improving  basic services visibly (meet expectations)
  • Making people feel safe: security is the crucial issue in transition (SSR, justice etc) and is part of stabilisation
  • Ensuring good governance (build trust and mitigate corruption)
  • Building up state capacity quickly – at least the fundamentals
  • Managing expectations

Examining other conflict and post-conflict settings helps put the assistance situation in Sudan into perspective. In Liberia, humanitarian aid gradually reduced with an increase in development assistance. In Afghanistan, the focus has been most strongly on development – almost 90% of total assistance. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, development assistance is more than 75% of total assistance. However, in Sudan the bulk of assistance is humanitarian – less than 50% of assistance is consistently for development. These are national data which include assistance to Darfur, which is primarily humanitarian.

Sudan has progressed on the Human Development Index, and the overall economy is growing, with per capita income tripling since 1985. The population grew from 19 million in 1983 to 39 million in 2008. The country is huge, with many specific regional challenges:

  • Darfur: IDP return, humanitarian aid to 4.7m people, community level recovery
  • East: forgotten crisis, protracted refugee situation, health crisis
  • Three Areas:  Misseriyya migration, recovery, conflict resolution
  • South: budget pressure, tribal conflict, food crisis, protection
  • National: CPA milestones, GoSS and GNU cooperation, Darfur peace process

There are extreme regional differences in terms of development indicators. Primary school attendance in the North is 80%, compared to 40% in Southern Sudan. Maternal mortality in the South is almost 2,000 deaths per 100,000 births – making it one of the most dire in the world. The indicators suggest important post-conflict needs in the South.

The low baseline and high needs raise the questions of which areas should be prioritised and how budgets should be allocated. Social services receive insufficient public funds:  only 2% of the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) budget in 2008 was spent on health. The Common Humanitarian Fund is mostly spent on food assistance (60%), with much of the food aid going to Darfur. Only 5% is allocated for agriculture and early recovery (each).

While revenue is earned from oil and taxes, the capacity of government institutions is weak.  Building capacity will take time, and while Sudan ranks low in terms of capacity and rule of law, the amount of money dedicated to capacity-building in Sudan is the lowest compared to Iraq, Afghanistan, DR Congo, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Ameera Haq concluded by emphasising the many priorities that need to be addressed in a post-conflict transition, which constitute the early recovery challenge:

  1. Security and stabilisation
  2. Built state capacity
  3. Lay foundations for recovery
  4. Strengthen governance
  5. Save lives and respond to acute crises
  6. Address recovery challenges in Darfur (while continuing humanitarian assistance)

Koen Davidse
Koen Davidse began his response to the speakers by noting that the issues they covered are part of broader discussions on fragile states. The Dutch policy perspective stresses addressing state fragility, the importance of which is also evident in recent attention by the UN, World Bank and governments. There is a middle ground between humanitarian and development that is ill-defined and needs to be further explored. Luka Biong Deng raised important issues: the need for joint action by donors, concerns about crowding out development expenditure because of security spending, access to basic services and managing expectations. Ameera Haq rightly stressed the importance of ownership, timing and security.

The case of Sudan, and Southern Sudan in particular, is crucial in its own right, with the end of the war and upcoming referendum on secession in the South. It also provides lessons related to early recovery, as donors and others ask ‘if we did the right things’ and ‘if we did the right things right’. In looking at early recovery, a study by the Centre for International Cooperation (CIC) sheds light on significant gaps in terms of strategy, capacity and funding to support early recovery. In the ‘middle ground’ between humanitarian and development, there is a gap where much needs to happen at the same time and there is a need to deliver peace dividends while humanitarian resources are dwindling. Other crucial issues are addressing capacity and ownership, as well as security. There can be no true sequencing between these priorities because they are intertwined and must occur at the same time.

The multitude of funding international instruments in Southern Sudan is apparent, with the right actions being taken but not necessarily in the right order.  The initial focus concentrated on the most difficult issue – long-term investment – while there should have also been funds looking and short-term delivery of basic services, which do now exist. The experience has provided many lessons for donors, the government of Southern Sudan and the World Bank. How to build state capacity is both difficult and important; particularly with the governance issues in Southern Sudan. As donors and the government work together to deal with the macro-economic issues stressed in Ameera Haq’s presentation, a lack of capacity is a clear challenge. There is also a risk of a recurrence of violence and increase in displacement of civilians.

Key lessons from Southern Sudan are the importance of sequencing, timing and having donors working together, which is a difficult process. Working with trust funds is a good idea, but they must be appropriate to the situation. The international community needs to support the process, but in the best way. Capacity-building in general should be an aspect of settlements and post-conflict needs assessments. The issue of political will is crucial to moving from a military situation to a civilian one. In the longer-term, economic diversification will also be required, including developing agriculture and other industries. Lessons must be learned fast in southern Sudan, with strong support from the international community.

Sara Pantuliano opened the discussion by noting that key issues – capacity, sequencing, timing and reconciling different tensions in transitions – have been explored throughout the meetings series on fragile states. The recurrence of these themes highlights the need for the international community to tackle these challenges more robustly.

The questions and general discussion covered a wide-range of issues:

  • The role of reconciliation work in post-conflict SouthernSudan:  Reconciliation is a key issue given tribal tensions that were at play during the North-South conflict and not fully captured in the peace agreement.
  • Whether humanitarian funds are being used to ‘subsidise’ government responsibility: There are large stresses on the GoSS budget, and it is important that there be humanitarian NGOs willing to provide assistance when and where this is necessary.  At the same time, when NGOs were expelled from Darfur, the Sudanese government did provide budgetary support for basic services for the first time, so external actors need to be mindful of substituting for government responsibility when this can be exercised.
  • Whether the aid community gets caught up in labels like ‘early recovery’ when more focus should be placed on the operational context:  Humanitarian appeals will not fund activities like training for basic services, but often no other funds exist that will cover them.  Funding categories are part of the current reality of assistance that incentivises certain activities and behaviours and it is critical to find modalities that allow for support that is tailored to need rather than in line with predetermined funding categories.
  • Lessons that can be learned from Southern Sudan and applied to Darfur:  There are concerns about creating ‘dependency’, the danger of de-skilling people and environmental impacts of camp-settings. Urbanisation was stressed as an issue that needs to be addressed urgently as people in Southern Sudan are reluctant to return to rural areas. 
  • The tensions between putting money through state structures and supporting ‘quick’ peace dividends through NGOs:  Donors must take appropriate actions according to the context while recognising the need to build long-term capacity.
  • The importance of effective information systems:  Information systems have improved substantially in Southern Sudan; the census was a particularly impressive accomplishment using state of the art data processing.


In countries emerging from conflict, how to implement responses that lay the foundations for recovery has long been debated. Much of this discussion has been focused on the interface between relief and development assistance. Linking relief and development has been a topic of considerable discussion and research – and arguably little progress – for over two decades. More recently, as strengthening engagement in fragile states has become a dominant international concern, this focus has widened from linking relief and development to integrating aid and security. This has brought to the fore the inevitable tensions between humanitarian, development and security-oriented approaches. Increased attention to stabilisation, peace-building and state-building reflects these security-oriented priorities. Frameworks like ‘early recovery’, are indicative of attempts to help reconcile often divergent objectives and priorities in the transition away from conflict, but with varying interpretations around early recovery and evident trade-offs between different assistance approaches, these challenges remain as stark as ever.   

A powerful example of these unresolved tensions is Southern Sudan. The signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005 and the establishment of the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) saw a shift away from humanitarian action, which has been driving external assistance to Southern Sudan for the last 20 years, towards recovery and development. This has been a challenging task for an international aid community divided between humanitarian and development modes of thinking and operating. The Sudan experience has shown once again how the middle ground, where recovery sits, is still poorly defined and the conventional aid architecture struggles to cater for it. An illustration of this across Southern Sudan has been the dilemma between rapidly scaling up services to meet growing demand versus addressing longer term state-building goals as well as security and stabilization priorities.

In this meeting, the sixth of a series on fragile states, the panel, composed of senior Sudan policy makers, discussed the continued challenges of promoting recovery in Southern Sudan, the tensions and trade-offs between different approaches (humanitarian, development, peacebuilding, statebuilding, stabilisation) and how architectural and coordination constraints can realistically be overcome to improve the efforts of international actors in supporting recovery from conflict in Southern Sudan.