Convening to put financial backbone in an accord ending two decades of war in southern Sudan, yet meeting under the shadow of ongoing conflict in the country's western Darfur region, an international donors' conference opened today with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan appealing for $2.6 billion to fan the flames of peace.
"If ever there was a time for donors to get off the fence, it is surely today," he told the gathering in Oslo, Norway, summoned to fund rehabilitation, with a massive shortfall already evident, after a peace agreement in January ended a civil war that killed 2 million people and drove more than 4.5 million other southerners from their homes.
"Indeed, if experience has taught us anything, it is that successful post-conflict recovery requires immediate, tangible and well-planned investment for the long term.
"How can the people of south Sudan be partners for peace when children born there have a 25 per cent chance of dying before they reach the age of five? When these same children have only a 25 per cent chance of reaching the age of 65? When only 20 per cent of children go to primary school?" he asked.
And yet, he told the opening session of the two-day conference, although $2.6 billion in external support has been identified as vital to meet the requirements of the next two and a half years, there are already massive shortfalls, with nearly $1 billion still to be raised out of the $1.5 billion requested nearly five months ago for this year.
"I urge you to close all these funding gaps for 2005 now, with firm commitments and cash contributions, not with pledges that may not be realized until it is too late for us to save lives," he said, noting that the late response is already affecting million of people, with food rations already being cut for hundreds of thousands of displaced people in Darfur while supplies will run out for 2 million other in the south within weeks.
Even though the conference targets southern Sudan, Darfur weighed heavily in the Secretary-General's address as he called for a resumption of peace talks in the separate conflict there between Government, militia and rebel forces, which has killed tens of thousands people and uprooted more than 2 million others in the past two years, and shows scant signs of abating.
He voiced the hope that the agreement that ended the fighting in southern Sudan could serve "as the basis and catalyst for lasting peace" and throughout Africa's largest country. "Darfur must not become a code word for hesitant or piecemeal support for the recovery of the rest of Sudan. The stakes are too high not to seize this opportunity," he warned.
"Over the past three decades, no fewer than half of all post-conflict situations have reverted back into war within five years of the signing of a peace agreement," he noted, stressing the importance of "the enduring support of the international community - political, moral and financial" in overcoming the many obstacles ahead in Sudan.
As an example he cited soldiers who are not disarmed and given alternative economic livelihoods as one of the greatest threats of renewed conflict, noting the need for immediate support for reintegrating ex-combatants into society by guaranteeing them secure livelihoods.
"Pledge - and pledge generously. Pledges are good but cash is better. We must remain unified in taking the next step, by giving the parties what they need to help communities recover and to consolidate peace," he declared.
"All the people of Sudan want clean water, food for their families, schools for their children, proper healthcare, and the prospect of development," he concluded. "They have earned this peace. We should not fail them."