DEC chief: 'I didn’t become an aid worker to stand by'

World leaders, aid agencies and others are attending the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul to discuss efforts to tackle global crises.

Saleh Saeed, chief executive of the Disasters Emergency Committee, is attending and explains why finding more money, more quickly for crises like South Sudan is his main concern.

This week I am going to the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul. To explain why, I need to tell you how two weeks ago I came to be in a canoe in the middle of the world’s biggest swamp.

A canoe being punted through the Suud

The Suud surrounds the White Nile in South Sudan. There are tall reeds, shallow channels and small islands. I visited one of these islands and found people surviving there by eating water lily roots and small fish they catch in the swamp.

Some aid is getting to them but nowhere near enough. At the summit one of the main issues we need to crack is why there is NEVER enough money for emergencies like this – where the cause is conflict and the result is often a food crisis.

Payat Island in the middle of the largest swamp on earth, the Suud

It was on the island that I met Sara and four other households from her extended family, all living in a hut with one room, made of reeds.

She told me: “When the fighting broke out some of my family were killed, some of the women were taken as ‘wives’ by the fighters and some of us managed to flee into the swamp."

Like more than a million other people in South Sudan they lost their homes, their crops and their cattle. Sara and her family waded through chest-deep water for days to reach the island. To gather food, they cut reeds to make floating islands on which the children could rest. They dived into the swamp to collect the roots of the water lily plant, which they ate raw. Months later, the families are still gathering these roots to stay alive but they are getting harder to find.

The World Food Programme fears that in the coming months 5.3 million people here will be facing a severe food crisis.

The UK is one of the most generous funders to the aid effort in South Sudan but overall the work needed here is not even one third funded. Communities like this must have food, clean water and healthcare. We should be supporting people to not just survive but to return home when they feel safe to do so, to plant crops, replace livestock and restart their businesses. We cannot do that without funding.

An infant having its upper arm measured to check if it needs to be put onto a supplementary feeding programme

There are members of the Disasters Emergency Committee that can’t buy the things the people they are helping need. Some may soon be forced to lay off the local staff they depend on to deliver their work. More money certainly won’t solve all South Sudan’s problems but without it our hands will increasingly be tied.

How to find more money, more quickly for crises like South Sudan is not the only thing on the agenda at this week’s summit but right now it is the one that worries me most. I’m going because I didn’t become an aid worker to stand by while people like Sara face death alone.

An WFP Antanov cargo plane airdrops individual sacks of sorghum grain on the edge of Nyal.

DEC member agencies appealing for South Sudan include:

Saleh Saeed’s views do not necessarily reflect that of ITV News