South Sudan (MNN) — Against all hope, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has ignored the pleas of humanitarian aid groups and signed into law the non-governmental organization (NGOs) Bill.
At a time when four million South Sudanese rely on humanitarian assistance for food, medicine, and education, this bill could be disastrous. What’s more, the United Nations warns that nearly a quarter of the country’s population remain in urgent need of food assistance, and at least 40,000 of them are on the brink of catastrophe.
Matt Parker, president of Kids Alive International, explains the impact they’ve already felt. “The South Sudanese government, over the last few months, has really started to put restrictions on some of the work that’s being carried out by international NGOs [Non-Government Organizations].” He adds that the bill severely restricts the number of international workers that an NGO can have and generally adds “an extra layer of bureaucracy in terms of how international NGOs can operate within South Sudan.”
Few NGO leaders will question the need for regulation and accountability. All of these humanitarian groups have a responsibility to cooperate closely with the national government and local communities wherever possible, says Parker, emphasizing that people have to be “sure that the funds that they send are managed well, they’re dispersed appropriately, that there is transparency and maximum impact in improving the lives of beneficiaries.”
Why is Kiir’s Administration choosing to clamp down now? Parker thinks it’s a combination of a desire for government control and a lack of trust for the NGOs on the ground. However, consider this: “There’s a complete lack of basic health and education services across much of the country. So, any actions that are taken or regulations enforced that will hinder the work of international NGOs in providing the critical life-saving support, are really short-sighted.” The timing is bad. “The situation is absolutely dire. Hunger, starvation–tens of thousands of people at risk of starvation.”
Whenever bureaucracy gets involved, things tend to get enmeshed in red tape. “There are kids that we know that urgently need help, but we’re having to work with the government to follow these process. It’s been frustratingly slow for us,” says Parker. He expresses his confidence that “it will happen, I believe; but in the meantime, there are young children living on the streets, uncared for, and that desperately need our help.”
Kids Alive has a 10-year presence in South Sudan. Several years ago, they opened a 16-bed children’s home. “We’ve rescued 16 young children off the streets–children that were at-risk of starvation and abuse, at-risk of losing their lives, really.” The ministry recently expanded their facilities in Wau to make space for another 16 street children. Because of the new regulations, those spaces have yet to be filled.
Parker says South Sudan’s government needs to focus on engaging NGOs in constructive dialogue, build trust, and actively seek ways to collaborate effectively to the benefit of the South Sudanese people. Millions of lives are at stake, and firm action and partnership are urgently needed. “Be praying that we would continue to build positive relationships with the local government where we are working, and that there would be trust in those relationships, that we would be a great witness to them as an organization. We want to demonstrate the light of Christ in all that we do.”
For the 16 beds that remain empty, Parker adds, “Pray for the 16 kids that we hope to rescue in the very near future from the streets. These kids have suffered terribly. We want to see their lives transformed by the power of Jesus.”