Humanitarian horror in Sudan

Asmaa Al-Husseini , Friday 12 Apr 2024

Sudan is quickly becoming the world’s worst humanitarian tragedy, with famine and displacement being the tip of the iceberg.

Humanitarian horror in Sudan


The year-long war in Sudan has resulted in the world’s most severe humanitarian crisis, according to numerous international organisations who have been unable to access many of the country’s regions due to extreme violence and the resulting indiscriminate death, disease, and destruction.

Making matters worse is the escalation of fighting and mobilisation by the conflicting parties, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

The conflict is also proliferating - with numerous armed movements, tribal militias and political and ideological factions joining the fray.

Weapons have been disseminated among civilians, further exacerbating the conflict’s reach and intensity. The impact of the war now extends across the entirety of Sudan and spills over its borders with regional and international actors providing support to various factions.

The humanitarian crisis in Sudan compounds the already intricate challenges surrounding the delivery of aid, with both the SAF and RSF insisting on imposing specific routes that the opposing faction rejects.

The crisis further exacerbates widespread atrocities perpetrated against civilians on ethnic, tribal, regional, and political grounds, including assassination, rape, displacement, property theft and destruction, bombings, and attacks on service institutions.

Of grave concern is the international community’s inability to halt the brutal war in Sudan, apply pressure on the warring parties, or effectively respond to the global humanitarian tragedy. Despite the staggering loss of life, widespread destruction, horrific massacres, and daily crimes and violations, international intervention remains insufficient.

UN reports – conservative as they may be compared to Sudanese assessments – have warned that 18 million Sudanese are at risk of famine, 70 per cent of health facilities are inaccessible, and eight million people have been displaced, including 1.7 million outside Sudan.

Grain production in Sudan has plummeted by 64 per cent in the past year, resulting in a staggering increase of up to 73 per cent in food prices.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that Sudan is confronting the largest child displacement crisis globally, with 14 million Sudanese children urgently requiring life-saving assistance across various critical areas including health, nutrition, education and water.

Since the onset of the war, more than 3.5 million children have been forcibly displaced. Some 7.4 million children lack access to safe drinking water and over three million children under the age of five are afflicted by acute malnutrition, UNICEF stated, with 19 million deprived of education.

Sarah Mustafa, a Sudanese activist based in Darfur, said women, children, the elderly and people with chronic illnesses are enduring catastrophic conditions in displacement camps and shelters.

More than five million people in Darfur are on the brink of famine, a consequence of both the war-induced deterioration in the agricultural season and insufficient rainfall.

The people of Darfur, particularly women, have borne the brunt of the war since 2002, she said, sending an appeal to international and regional organisations to prioritise the delivery of humanitarian aid to those in need.

Mustafa also implored the conflicting parties to establish safe humanitarian corridors to facilitate aid delivery, adding that obstruction of aid delivery has resulted in deaths within camps.

Ongoing international and Sudanese warnings regarding the dire humanitarian crisis fall on deaf ears among the conflicting parties.

Instead of heeding these warnings, they persist in pursuing a military solution which, after a year of relentless fighting, seems increasingly untenable.

The SAF is preparing to escalate military operations after the involvement of Darfur factions aligning themselves with the army.

Mobilisation efforts are underway, with reinforcements being dispatched to the capital, Khartoum, and the state of Gezira.

Air strikes on Darfur have also intensified.

The RSF, for their part, have declared a continuous state of readiness for defence and confrontation against attacks by the SAF and its allied factions. This means the war will persist, resulting in greater humanitarian catastrophes.

Khaled Omar, a leader in the Sudanese Coordination of Civil Democratic Forces (Taqaddum), warned against the devastating impact of the ongoing humanitarian crisis and the looming threat of famine.

Amid widening divisions exacerbated by the current crisis, there is an urgent need for unity, he said, stressing the circumstances faced by Sudanese refugees and displaced persons.

Omar also pointed to the collapse of basic services such as health and education, as well as the obstruction of humanitarian aid access, and the inadequate international response.

Adel Sayed Ahmed, a Sudanese writer and political analyst, places primary responsibility for the humanitarian tragedy in Sudan on the United Nations.

He argues that the weakness of the UN’s mechanisms for delivering food and medicine to Sudanese people is the primary cause of this tragedy.

Ahmed criticised the UN’s decision to distribute aid to both sides of the conflict, saying that the UN Security Council should prioritise the lives of millions of Sudanese people facing famine.

He urged the UN to mobilise resources related to international humanitarian law, impose a ceasefire, and establish safe humanitarian corridors.

Leaving these matters to the conflicting parties will only exacerbate the humanitarian crisis further, Ahmed stated.

The situation requires urgent action from the international community, Sudan’s allies, neighbouring countries, and all Sudanese factions who need to provide swift life-saving assistance to the millions affected by this conflict.

It also necessitates substantial funding from donors and the consolidation of international and regional efforts to aid Sudan in finding a political resolution to this crisis and bringing the war to an end.

Sudan is in desperate need of peace, achievable only through the conflicting parties ceasing hostilities. It is also imperative that all those parties should refrain from using starvation as a weapon of war and commit to opening safe corridors for the delivery of humanitarian aid.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 4 April, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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