Humanitarian access, local action and conflict sensitivity in Sudan since April 2023
Introducing a new CSF blog series
Six months of devastating conflict have plummeted Sudan into what the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths has called “one of the worst humanitarian nightmares in recent history”. Despite staggering levels of humanitarian need, including some 24.7 million Sudanese (about half the population) requiring assistance and an estimated 5.79 million people having been displaced, the international aid sector has been struggling to respond. Since violence erupted in Khartoum in April 2023, UNOCHA estimates that just 3.7m were reached as of September 15th. The last six months of renewed and extreme violence now threatens to also spark further conflict at the community level.
In this context, humanitarian responders in Sudan not only face the challenge of delivering life-saving assistance in a complex environment with severe access and security challenges, but also in ensuring that aid does not feed into the conflict or sustain it.
To explore the conflict sensitivity implications of the operational issues we’re seeing in Sudan, the CSF is pleased to launch its new blog series ‘Humanitarian access, local action and conflict sensitivity dilemmas in Sudan since April 2023’. This first introductory blog looks at some of the challenges aid actors have been facing, the questions they pose for a conflict sensitive aid response and how this blog series aims to unpack them.
Navigating a complex operating environment
The outbreak of conflict on 15 April took much of the aid sector by surprise. Today, more than six months on, only 33.5 per cent of the humanitarian response plan for Sudan is funded, while access and security impediments continue to limit the international response.
The access environment for international aid agencies is bleak. International responders have struggled to obtain visas for surge staff and travel permits within the country, and face interference in programming and recruitment when seeking to deliver aid. Fuel shortages constrain the movement of staff and power supply for crucial operations, and targeted attacks on convoys and healthcare, looting, abductions and other security incidents limit organisational delivery capacity. Meanwhile, over 45 aid workers have been killed, almost all national staff. The humanitarian space is severely restricted, and international aid agencies are currently mainly based in just one location within Sudan – Port Sudan – with access only to parts of the country controlled by specific conflict actors.
In contrast, when the crisis erupted, local responders and civil society organisations were able to rapidly organise themselves to support their communities, including by evacuating civilians and delivering essential services and health care amidst intense violent clashes. However, even though local responders often have direct access to deliver life-saving assistance, coordination with them has been limited and focused on bilateral engagement.
There have been some critical international efforts to support these actors – aside diaspora fundraising, one-off grants have been approved from international agencies for local responders and some international NGOs have directly channelled funding through national NGOs to particular communities. The mutual aid approach1 of local responders has inspired a shift in how aid is delivered in Sudan and presented aid actors with a framework for engaging with communities and groups.
Still, local responders have criticised inequitable partnerships between international and national/local NGOs, rigid bureaucratic processes, and the transfer of risk, and in the long-run, a more genuine strategy is needed that recognises the important role that local responders and civil society organisations play in the humanitarian response, as well as Sudan’s political context.
In light of these challenges, going forward, humanitarian access and local action will undoubtedly remain key concerns for the aid sector as it seeks to assist communities across Sudan.
Finding solutions that are conflict sensitive
The aid sector must find solutions to these recurring operational obstacles. However, how we approach these access impediments, negotiate for better access on the local and international level, and work with local responders, matters.
The decisions made must keep in mind the bigger picture, guided by a thorough analysis of the context and the implications of our actions for the people we serve. When seeking to enhance our access, asking ourselves questions like how we are reinforcing power structures by engaging with some actors and not with others is important, as well as considering how actors might be positioning themselves to benefit from aid.
Access is often political and politicised. For decades, it has been granted or withheld according to the interests of those giving permissions around it, including national actors and those at the local and regional levels. Access itself has economic and resource implications – humanitarian actors interact with conflict economies and shape incentive patterns that can promote peace, or even conflict. Moreover, access negotiations can confer legitimacy onto certain actors by allowing them to shape who does and doesn’t receive aid, which can ultimately entrench conflict dynamics while undermining other actors by excluding them.
Incorporating these considerations into our solutions will be crucial to avoid undermining prospects for peace opportunities and supporting a locally led response in Sudan.
Introducing the new CSF blog series
To further unpack these issues, we have invited several external authors to reflect on the nature of humanitarian access and localisation from various perspectives, as well as considering their possible conflict sensitivity implications in our new blog series ‘Humanitarian access, localisation and conflict sensitivity dilemmas in Sudan since April 2023’.
Among others, the upcoming blogs in this series will include lessons learned from access challenges in Ethiopia, Myanmar and Syria, investigate the implications of the transactional nature of access in Sudan, and amplify the perspectives of local responders on these issues in an interview with five local responders.
While these blog posts are not necessarily reflective of the CSF’s views nor all actors engaged in the response, we are hoping that this series will contribute to the crucial ongoing decision-making around the response and encourage us to assess the wider implications of the aid sector’s actions in fostering peace in Sudan.
We hope you will enjoy them and we encourage feedback.
If you’re interested in contributing to this blog series or engaging with us on this issue, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Chiara at email@example.com.
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