10/22/2014 10:07 am ET Updated Dec 22, 2014

South Sudan: Spend Now to Save More Later

Ten months of conflict in South Sudan have shattered the lives of the country's already beleaguered people. Three ceasefire commitments have been broken within hours, damaging prospects for peace. Violence, hunger and disease threaten millions of people. As the dry season approaches in November, I call on the international community to spend now in order to save lives and money in 2015.

The past 10 months of conflict have been devastating for the people of South Sudan. When violence erupted in December 2013, civilians were brutally attacked. Homes were destroyed, infrastructure was ransacked and supplies looted. Almost a year later, civilians continue to be intimidated, hurt and killed. Almost two million people have fled from their villages; over 900,000 children are malnourished and need urgent help. Six months of heavy rains have also taken their toll: Entire communities have been cut off by roads that have been washed away or lie under water; many people live knee-deep in mud.

Aid agencies have been resolute in their commitment to stay and deliver, protecting the lives of millions in danger. Despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles, including insecurity, agencies have reached more than 3.1 million people with emergency relief in 163 places; helped avert a famine; and brought under control a deadly cholera outbreak.

The dry season, which starts in November, is crucial for South Sudan. In the absence of peace, and there still is no good news on that front, violence is likely to escalate as it becomes easier to move troops, tanks and artillery by road. Fighting would displace yet more people and push millions to the brink of famine.

But the dry season also offers an important window of opportunity. While the current rainy season saw aid organizations forced to deliver relief by helicopter or plane, the dry months offer valuable access to remote areas by road. As the weather becomes more settled, emergency repairs of airstrips, roads and ports again become possible. All of this will enable aid agencies to reach more people with life-saving aid, and to pre-position supplies in deep-field locations to ensure that they are available when the rains come again next May.

Making the most of the dry season forms the backbone of our strategy for a more cost-effective, flexible and far-reaching humanitarian response in the coming year. However, seizing this opportunity requires resources, now. Another $637 million is still required to keep our highly prioritized and bare-bones aid operation going this year. On top of that, aid agencies need $269 million now to kick-start operations for 2015, including upgrading key infrastructure and pre-positioning relief items by road.

In a world where attention is torn between the Ebola crisis, war in Gaza and protracted suffering in the Central African Republic, Iraq and Syria, funding for humanitarian action is inevitably scarce. That is why it is so important to make resources go further. For aid agencies working in South Sudan, every dollar received now, before the end of the year, can save many more lives than the same amount received when rains strike next May. Averting a famine is much more cost-effective than tackling the death and devastation that inevitably follows in its wake. Providing vaccines, clean water and latrines to a community costs less than treating hundreds of severely ill children.

For the parties to the conflict, the dry season is an opportunity to demonstrate leadership and responsibility. The international community can do the same, by supporting the peace process while responding generously to the need for resources. By investing now, we will save much more later.