International donors pledged more than $600 million Tuesday at a conference in Norway to help avert famine in South Sudan, but stressed that the funds would do little to help if the warring sides in the country continue to fight and obstruct aid deliveries.
The Norwegian Foreign Ministry said more than 50 countries, large and small, attended the conference in Oslo.
They listened to speeches from dignitaries, including one in which South Sudan’s Foreign
Affairs Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin compared the fighting in his young country to a careless child who breaks something.
"This is a young country... two years old... breaking a few glasses? I'm sure some of you here are married and have children, and especially the last born. When it runs around, knocking glasses around -- you don't throw that wonderful last born through the window into the snow or into the sunshine. Equally, the mother will say, 'Next time, you won't break the glasses,'" he said.
"We would like to see, as far as South Sudan is concerned, this is an incident that has never been expected and I can assure you that with the resilience of our people, we will definitely overcome this process," Marial said.
This money will mean nothing, nothing, to the children, the women, the handicapped who are desperate for help if there is no access.
For some at the conference, the comparison of South Sudan, where thousands have died in five months of fighting, more than a million have been forced from their homes, famine is looming, and four million face severe food security, with a clumsy child who breaks glasses, was off the mark.
"The crisis is much more severe than the acts of an errant child," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said.
European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Kristalina Georgieva continued the analogy of a child, saying that because South Sudan is in a restive part of Africa it would be in its interest to "grow up as fast as possible."
Georgieva announced that the European Commission was pledging 55 million euros on top of the 50 million euros in humanitarian aid it has already given to South Sudan.
There are still 80 checkpoints between Juba and Bentiu. Please fix it.
"But," she warned, "This money will mean nothing, nothing, to the children, the women, the handicapped who are desperate for help if there is no access. We can bring the billions of this planet, but if there is no access to help people, it means nothing."
Marial said the government was committed to giving aid agencies unimpeded access to the millions in need in South Sudan.
But the U.N.'s Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, Toby Lanzer, said that was not yet the case.
"There are still 80 checkpoints between Juba and Bentiu. Please fix it," he said.
Britain's Minister for International Cooperation Lynne Featherstone also called on the South Sudanese government to put the promises Marial made in his speech -- including that the government will give unimpeded access to aid agencies working in South Sudan -- into action, or face the prospect of famine.
"Words come easily; we actually need to see delivery on the ground, and only then will the rekindling of hope be possible," she said.
Countries large and small pledged to help in any way they could. The United States pledged $291 million. The Baltic state of Estonia pledged 200,000 euros. Sudan pledged 10 tons of sorghum, in spite of what Foreign Minister Ali Karti called "crippling sanctions" on the country's agricultural system.
By the end of the day, more than 50 countries had pledged $600 million, doubling to around $1.2 billion the amount of funding for humanitarian aid for South Sudan. Some of the pledges made Tuesday were earmarked for neighboring countries, which have taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees from the war-torn country.
Ciaran Donnelly of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) commented that the bulk of the pledges came from the United States, the European Commission, the United Kingdom and Norway.
She also noted that the total amount raised is $100 million shy of the $1.3 billion the United Nations said it needed for South Sudan back in January, and falls significantly short of the $1.8 billion it says it will need by the end of this year.