Is it the Fault of NGOs Alone? Aid and Dependency in Eastern Sudan
Scholars of development studies have long debated the efficacy of humanitarian assistance in the Sudan, especially in eastern Sudan, where humanitarian agencies have been working for more than two decades. Questions about the importance of humanitarian assistance to recovery and, hence, development, are central in the debate. Does humanitarian assistance end up creating dependence, not development? This study suggests that humanitarian assistance, often carried out in contexts of complex emergencies and fragile livelihoods, has little chance of achieving recovery and eventual development. Using qualitative data from the Red Sea State in eastern Sudan, this article argues that the failure to achieve recovery and development is not the fault of NGOs alone. Chronic susceptibility to droughts and famines, wars, and lack of coordination among NGOs and between NGOs and local authorities are some of the local level problems that negatively affect humanitarian work in eastern Sudan. The local level problems that impede achieving self-reliance are entangled with the discursive national and international politics of humanitarian assistance in ways that cast doubts about the positive role of aid agencies. The presence of NGOs certainly led to changes in many structures, but this is not reflected positively in people's livelihoods. Instead of achieving recovery, communities in eastern Sudan are moving from positive coping strategies to negative adaptive vulnerabilities, exemplified by dependence on NGOs. The recently signed peace agreement in eastern Sudan offers opportunities for more inclusive planning, but without national commitment and international support it might accelerate conflict and vulnerability and hence deepen dependency.
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