Qatar confirmed on Monday it will provide $88 million to kick-start a strategy for lasting development of Sudan's Darfur, which this year has seen its worst violence in a decade.
The commitment, signed in the North Darfur capital El Fasher, comes one year after an international donors' conference in Doha secured $3.6 billion in pledges -- mostly from cash-strapped Khartoum -- to finance the six-year Darfur Development Strategy.
Gas-rich Qatar said at the conference that it would make an immediate contribution of $88 million, half the $177 million needed for critical short-term activities.
"It took some time... We're glad that it's on the right track," the UN chief in Sudan, Ali Al-Za'tari, said when asked why the money had not come sooner.
"They have already transferred, even before we signed anything, $10 million to the United Nations Darfur fund," providing it with its first contribution, Za'tari told AFP from El Fasher.
The grant will be handed over "once the documentation is ready," likely within a month, he added.
Qatar will fund 19 UN-sponsored projects across Darfur's five states.
Known as "Foundational and Short-term (FaST) activities, the Development Strategy had called for them to be essentially completed within 12 months.
Among the targeted projects were the construction of water hand pumps, the building of schools and upgrading of health facilities.
The strategy's longer-term goal is to move the war-devastated region away from food handouts and other emergency aid, helping people to become more self-reliant.
But emergency needs remain high in the territory where, according to UN figures released on Monday, about 224,000 people have been displaced by fighting since late February.
That has added to the aid burden in a region where about two million were already displaced by 11 years of violence.
While Darfur's aid needs have soared, the number of aid workers has fallen in recent years, as has the amount of funding, according to the United Nations.
The Development Strategy comes under a July 2011 peace deal which Khartoum signed in Doha with an alliance of rebel splinter factions.
Numerous aspects of the deal have not been implemented on schedule and major rebel groups have refused to sign it.
At the same time, other forms of unrest -- including battles between heavily armed tribes, militia violence and criminality -- have worsened.
Separately from its contribution to the UN fund, Za'tari said Qatar has been supporting clinics and other projects under its total $500 million pledge from the conference.
"On the one hand, it's good that there will be money to do more longer-term things, which eventually could reduce the tension between groups," a humanitarian source said.
"On the other hand, the time doesn’t entirely seem to be ripe for it."
The UN-backed Development Strategy argues that there will likely never be an ideal time for Darfur's "recovery" to begin.