In Sudan, a bitter battle between opposing generals for power has been raging for a month. Caught in the crossfire is the Sudanese population which has resisted military rule for years and is demanding a transition to democracy.
One month after the escalation of violence in Sudan, hundreds of people have died and thousands more injured. Experts believe the number of unreported casualties is much higher.
And looming on the horizon is a humanitarian catastrophe of unimaginable proportions. According to estimates by the United Nations World Food Programme, 19 million people – or 41% of the population – could soon face hunger if the conflict cannot be brought to an end. Mathilde Vu of the non-profit organisation Norwegian Refugee Aid, told Euronews the situation is very alarming.
“It’s hell. Everyday people [are] struggling to find water because there’s no more running water, struggling to find food, struggling to move around,” she explains. “You know, you can be caught in the crossfire just because you want to go and buy some food and if you arrive at a shop then the prices are skyrocketing. And so everybody’s running out of cash as well as the banks which have been closed for the past 46 days.
Information from local colleagues who the organisation tries to stay in touch with is scarce. Mobile phone networks are currently not working, and power outages are becoming more frequent after attacks on electricity plants. And looting has increased, Vu says. People are being forced to leave their homes because they have been occupied by armed groups.
The Sudanese army, under General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, is at war with the influential head of General Mohammed Hamdan Daglo’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces militia (RSF). They are a paramilitary group that emerged in 2013 from the notorious Janjaweed militia accused of ethnic cleansing of non-Arab minorities in the Darfur region.
The UN Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates that at least 700,000 people have been displaced in Sudan since mid-April with the number of refugees registered in neighbouring countries standing at around 150,000.
“Every single bit of life that can exist right now is either destroyed or in jeopardy. So that’s why you have a lot of people who have fled and are running towards either the border in the north, to Egypt or in the south into South Sudan or sometimes in nearby cities in the east”, Vu says.
Sadeia Alrasheed Ali Hamid, a Sudanese activist currently living in Saudi Arabia, descibed to Euronews the conditions in her home country: “We have bodies left on the street for the dogs to eat. What is this? And not just that. We have children who cannot go to hospital. They are afraid. […] They are staying under their beds because everyone is afraid to go out just to buy food or buy anything. (…) I am hearing that they are targeting the local markets, the main local markets in Khartoum. There are some gangs there who destroy everything in the market, steal everything. And these markets have the products that people need, food supplies and everything.”
On Friday 12 May, the warring parties signed a declaration of commitment in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to allow humanitarian aid into the country and to protect the civilian population. Something that has not been possible for security reasons since the escalation of violence.
Vu points out for aid organisations, there is another difficulty: “The fact that cash is just non-existent right now in this country [makes it] really difficult. We have to make terrible choices like do we pay for fuel, do we pay for food, do we pay salaries? And that’s really limiting the ability of an organisation to do a response at scale.”
The prospect of an early end to the civil war seems distant – even a cease-fire has not yet been achieved.
And there are growing concerns the conflict could spread to neighbouring countries. This is one reason why aid organisations are scrambling to focus attention on Sudan as quickly as possible.
Neighbouring countries such as Libya, Chad and Ethiopia are struggling with their own economic challenges, and the political situation in these countries is often unstable. Add to that the clear effects of climate change and, as Vu puts it, the region is already “extremely vulnerable to shocks.”
One of the things that needs to happen, Vu says, is for the international community to send a very, very strong message to the warring parties, making it clear that humanitarian aid and civilian lives and civilian infrastructure need to be protected regardless of ceasefires, regardless of peace agreements.”
Sudanese activist Sadeia Alrasheed Ali Hamid agrees: “At least right now the whole world should talk about what’s happening in Sudan. We cannot even count how many deaths there have been in our country. I feel like we are being left out. Please. (…) We are part of a whole world. The whole universe. We are part of this. There is a voice here in Africa, in Sudan, calling for help.”