Two counties in South Sudan have been hit hard by a famine that aid agencies have described as mostly man-made. The famines have left at least 100,000 people at risk for dying of starvation with millions more suffering various levels of food shortages.
To that end, aid organizations are needed to an even greater degree that what is currently available to alleviate suffering and help the people in any way they can. President Salva Kiir had initially promised “unimpeded access” to humanitarian aid organizations already working in the area but just a few days later the South Sudanese government hiked the fee for work permits for foreign aid workers from $100 to $10,000.
The fee increase, introduced in a memorandum, applies to all foreign workers in the country and is aimed at increasing government revenue, the minister of information, Michael Makuei, told Associated Press. The price hike is unprecedented on a global scale.
Julien Schopp, director for Humanitarian Practice at InterAction said of the government’s price hike;
“No organization can afford this, and if NGOs go to their institutional donors to request that extra money, I’m pretty sure that [the donors] will be reluctant to pay this because they will see this to some extent as ransom.”
He reasoned along the lines of the views shared by the information Minister with Associated Press that the South Sudanese government is seeking revenue and is willing to get it “wherever it can find it.” Schopp says that the plan seems to have been in the works for some time according to some of the people in the country.
The timing of the price hike for aid workers could not have been worse considering the famine. Joel Charny, director of the Norwegian Refugee Council USA, says that instead of another “bureaucratic impediment,” aid agencies need collaboration, assistance from the government and from all the warring parties to provide emergency food supplies, medical aid, and shelter.
Simon Adams, the executive director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, said the move by the South Sudan government showed a “callous disregard for the welfare of their own people”. According to him;
“We believe very strongly that the government and the armed rebels have committed atrocities,”
“It’s bitterly ironic to me that humanitarian workers are seen as a source of revenue rather than people who can provide aid and save lives.”
One other aid worker who is familiar with the situation in South Sudan, however, offered a little hope when he said that the memorandum had not yet been signed off by the finance ministry. He said “It is not a done deal yet,” but “If it is endorsed by the Ministry of Finance it will put it into effect and it will be a real burden on aid agencies and take away funding from famine-hit communities.”