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The War in South Sudan Might Cost $158 Billion Over 20 Years

Campaigners are trying a new tack in raising awareness, by highlighting the economic costs of the conflict, rather than the humanitarian ones.

by Sally Hayden
Jan 15 2015, 4:22pm

Photo by Phil Caller

With the devastating conflict in South Sudan showing no signs of resolution, campaigners are attempting a new method of awareness-raising by highlighting its financial costs to both the local region and the international community.

A new report shows that the war could amount to a figure between $122 and $158 billion over the next two decades. Over the next five years, this number could be $28 billion.

The report, prepared by Frontier Economics in collaboration with the Center for Conflict Resolution and the Center for Peace and Development Studies, was released with the aim of urging the international community to wake upto the economic — as well humanitarian — costs of the continued destruction of the world's newest state.

In a foreword to the report, Salim Ahmed Salim, Secretary General of the Organization of African Unity, noted that, "no monetary figure or economic projection can quantify the full human cost of this conflict. There can be no price tag on the suffering of South Sudan's people from displacement, famine and death."

Salim added, however, that: "By shedding light on the wider costs of the war, it is my sincere hope that this report will focus the minds of political leaders on the stakes of failing to bring immediate and lasting peace to South Sudan."

Edmund Yakani, from the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization, is based in Juba, and was one of the people who commissioned the research. He told VICE News that while there's a lot of discussion around the humanitarian needs of those in South Sudan, there's been no attempt to look at the costs of the war. In Juba, he said, the economic destruction is visible and tangible. There has now been no petrol available for three months, for example.

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Yakani said the warring parties need to commit to finding a peaceful solution, though other players must be involved too. The report recommends that for peace to be achieved, African leaders — with the full backing of the international community — must take swift and decisive action, and then sustain it.

Gavin Hayman, executive director of Global Witness, said that he was surprised by the vast scale of these figures. He told VICE News: "What's happening today and now is going to have a vast effect on the future of the country." South Sudan, he noted, is "potentially the world's most failed state," and the repercussions of what happens there can be felt internationally.

Hayman added that any move towards a peace process needs to be multilevel, involving national, regional, and international players. "What it really comes down to for me is there's a desperate need to reinvigorate the peace-keeping process," he said. "We need a major international effort. We need a lot more US leadership, to be frank, on some of these things."

Hayman also noted that economically South Sudan has the means to become a successful country and that, "one of the major costs of the war has been the huge reduction in oil production." A lot of the oil revenues that are coming in, he warned, are being mortgaged again for the future because of the country's state of emergency. "Debt repayments are just mounting and mounting and mounting," Hayman said.

The report attempts to highlight the potential national economic losses. The effect that increased hunger will have on labor productivity, for example, could alone result in $6 billion of lost revenue within five years.

Hayman pointed out that this could be used in much better ways and that there's a desperate need for development in South Sudan. "So I think showing the sheer cost of what this is will hopefully concentrate minds, particularly among international donors and others to think about how they want to spend that money," he said.

Weapons are streaming into South Sudan. Read more here.

When asked whether this report might have a negative impact on aid donation and international involvement, causing people to withdraw rather than increase their presence in the country, Hayman said that the projections really highlight why this would be a bad idea. "These things just don't go away, they always come back to haunt you. I mean look at what's happened in Somalia, and what's happened there in terms of the effect on international stability."

The report notes that five of the country's neighbors — Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda — could between themselves save up to $53 billion if the conflict was resolved within one year, rather than allowed to last for five more years. This four-year reduction would also save the international community $30 billion on peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance.

Robbie Hopper of Frontier Economics conducted research for the report. He told VICE News that sourcing figures was difficult — due to sometimes elusive economic data — but is satisfied that the final calculations are as close to accurate as possible.

South Sudan gained independence in 2011, after two Sudanese civil wars took over 2.5 million lives. Hopes were then high that this heralded peace in a region that has endured decades of conflict, yet the respite was brief and conflict broke out again in December 2013.

The war since has been brutal, killing tens of thousands of people, while nearly a third of the population is at risk of famine. The United Nations projects that between January and March 2015 6.4 million people will be facing food insecurity. Nearly half a million South Sudanese refugees fled during the first six months of 2014, making the country the fifth largest source of refugees worldwide.

Rape and sexual assault are being used as a weapon in South Sudan, says UN. Read more here.

Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd