Conflicts in Africa take toll on EU donors

Saturday June 08 2024

Drone footage shows birds in the foreground as clouds of black smoke billow over Bahri, also known as Khartoum North, Sudan on May 1, 2023. PHOTO | REUTERS


Donors from the European Union have cited pressure from a string of crises, especially in the Horn of Africa.

The EU—the largest donor after the US—is currently operating humanitarian aid missions in Somalia, Sudan, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, although its humanitarian agency has operated on the continent for the past 25 years providing humanitarian aid to African crises.

But, as the number of conflicts rise and natural calamities mount, Maciej Popowski, Director-General of the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (Echo), said the pressure is setting in even on an agency that has usually sent its share of response.

“For us there is no such thing as ‘forgotten crisis’ we remain engaged everywhere,” he told The EastAfrican.

“But we feel the pressure as well, the budget for humanitarian (needs) is slowly going down worldwide and we are desperately seeking new donors. However, there aren’t many takers.”

Read: Africa home to nearly half of global displaced population


Overall, humanitarian agencies including the UN say regions like the Horn of Africa will need at least $10 billion by September this year to attend to the various crises such as floods, insecurity and displacement, while the UN last month put up a funding appeal for $5.5 billion to attend to the biting drought in southern Aafrican regions.

The Horn of Africa has about 30 million people in need of assistance with Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Ethiopia most affected due to recent crises.

The EU, for example, says while the EU spent $100 million worth of humanitarian aid in Somalia last year, this year has started slowly with only $44 million. Somalia’s needs have gone up, however, with some seven million people displaced by floods, drought or insecurity.

Budgetary challenges won’t necessarily push the European agency out of these places. But it means the assistance will be reduced and certain services cut out. Either that or the number of those reached could be cut down altogether, he said.

Last week, Mr Popowski visited a refugee camp in Baidoa, South West State in Somalia, where about five families arrive every day fleeing Al Shabaab. The pattern is such that those arriving also have malnourished children.

“It is pretty bad in Somalia because of the combined impact of the conflict and floods that will be followed by drought. We prefer cash assistance through their mobile phones which empowers them to make their own decisions on whatever they need and not us to decide for them,” he said.

Yet it is not just financial strain undercutting response. The security and safety of aid workers has also been a top issue, especially in new conflict zones like Sudan.

Read: Global community turn a blind eye on Sudan war

In Sudan, the ECHO says it was forced to relocate all its foreign staff to Nairobi because of the widespread violence where the fighting between Sudan Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces. The two warring factions have been accused of limiting humanitarian access to starve off ‘enemy’ zones, making food and aid as one of the weapons of war, hence a war crime. ECHO said it had allocated $78 million for Sudan in 2024 but delivery challenges mean needy cases aren’t receiving the aid.

Since the war began last year in April, at least 21 humanitarian aid workers have been killed in Sudan, and 33 others wounded, according to data collated from various statements condemning killings of these workers. Usually, the workers were shot dead, which amounts to another war crime as aid workers should normally be protected by fighting factions.

“Khartoum is pretty dangerous and maybe if we are lucky, we might go and establish ourselves in Port Sudan. The country was in focus until Gaza hit and everybody turned away. But for the EU, there is nothing like a forgotten crisis,” he said.

Aid workers have overall said mounting crisis have stretched both attention and resources. Sudan erupted just as the world was rallying for Ukraine. But then Gaza erupted in the same year of Sudan.

Mr Popowski said that the conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine have not impacted much on their African operations because the EU “managed to scratch the barrels of our reserves” to deal with Ukraine without touching anything that was earmarked for elsewhere.

But as is in many cases, humanitarian attention usually follows political connection, and Gaza and Ukraine have grabbed more global attention than rising number of refugees from Sudan in Chad, for example.

In February, the EU announced had an initial allocation of $186 million in humanitarian aid to the Horn of Africa, which together with the Sudan allocations amounts to $264 million in 2024.

However, the Horn of Africa is experiencing an increase in humanitarian needs due to the region's numerous conflicts, harsh weather, and economic shocks. There are an estimated 65 million people that currently require humanitarian aid.

In South Sudan, the EU is supporting the restoration of peace through political and diplomatic engagement with key players as well as funding the operation of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) to monitor compliance with the cessation of hostilities; Imposing targeted measures (visa ban and asset freeze) against violators of the 2018 peace agreement.

Read: S.Sudan, rebel groups sign deal for lasting peace

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mr Popowski—who visited Goma last year—described the eastern part of the country as the worst where he witnessed thousands of displaced people who completely depend on the support of the international community having been displaced from their homes by the marauding M23. The EU has funded a water pipeline from Lake Kivu providing for the refugee camps in Goma.

Climate change has worsened the humanitarian situation in the greater Horn of Africa as it has exacerbated floods and droughts that sometimes occur several times within one year.

Mr Popowski says that ECHO has not been able to disengage in many countries in Africa through what they call graduation when countries can stand on their feet.

It is only in Mauritania that the EU was able to disengage when the country became stable but were forced to go back because of the influx of refugees from neighbouring Mali.