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Newborn babies victims in Sudan conflict

02 June 2023

More than two-thirds of hospitals are out of service because of the fighting

ALAMY

People gather to collect water in Khartoum, last Sunday

People gather to collect water in Khartoum, last Sunday

MORE than 30 newborn babies have died at a hospital in Sudan since the start of the fighting in April, the World Health Organization reported last week.

The deaths, at a hospital in Eld’aeen, East Darfur, include six in just one week, owing to problems such as the lack of oxygen supplies amid electricity blackouts. They illustrate the human toll of the power struggle being waged by rival generals: more than two-thirds of hospitals are out of service because of fighting. UNICEF reported on Tuesday that that 13.6 million children needed urgent assistance.

“These children are not just numbers: they are individuals with families, dreams, and aspirations,” UNICEF’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, Adele Khodr, said. “They are the future of Sudan, and we cannot stand by while their lives are torn apart by violence. The children of Sudan deserve a chance to survive and thrive. No efforts should be spared by all actors to protect the children and their rights.”

Since the outbreak of the conflict in April (News, 21 April), at least 705 people have been killed, and more than 5000 have been injured. Since 15 April, 333,000 have crossed the border, and more than one million have been internally displaced.

The Archbishop of Canterbury asked in the House of Lords last week how the Government was helping the South Sudanese government to support refugees who had crossed the border, and whether it would consider channelling funds through faith groups, “which tend to be more effective in that country in getting money on the ground”.

Writing in The Times on Saturday, Tearfund’s country director for South Sudan, Anthony Rama, described the impact of the exodus. “Our commitment to hospitality is truly being put to the test,” he wrote. “Communities in South Sudan are themselves already struggling to survive in the face of an extreme climate and hunger crisis. Now, those hosting people fleeing Sudan have to share what little clean water, food, hygiene products, and shelter there is available with strangers.

“It’s not only practical items that are needed, but also emotional resources, shoulders to cry on, and safe spaces to allow people fleeing their homes to grieve for their losses.”

Hospitality was “never a one-way transaction”, he wrote. “When we give, we also receive. Perhaps this is why we can be encouraged by the teaching in the Bible that tells how, in offering hospitality, some have entertained angels.”

A truce agreed in Jeddah came into effect on 22 May. Although fighting has continued to break out, the World Food Programme reported on Tuesday a “major breakthrough” in access to Khartoum, where it had been able to distribute food to 15,000 people in areas controlled by the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces. The agency has now been able to reach 725,000 people across 13 states since resuming its operations on 3 May. These had been paused in response to the killing of three aid workers at the start of the conflict.

An estimated 24.7 million people, or half the population, require urgent humanitarian assistance and protection, the UN reports. It has voiced “grave concerns about serious human-rights violations, rampant looting, and a flood of weapons throughout the country”.

Last week, the World Council of Churches appealed for a permanent cessation of hostilities in Sudan. “The people of Sudan continue to be the innocent victims of a dispute within the Military Council that has ruled Sudan since the coup of October 2021,” its statement said. “Having collaborated in derailing Sudan’s trajectory towards democracy and civilian rule, the two military leaders . . . are now struggling over the wreckage of a nation.”

The statement highlights the effects of the conflict on the churches and religious communities of Sudan, including an attack on worshippers in the Mar Girgis (St George) Coptic Church in Omdurman, on 14 May, where serious injuries were reported. Both the Anglican and Roman Catholic cathedrals in Khartoum had been shelled, damaged, and looted, and the former was still “occupied by paramilitaries”. Mosques had also been affected, while “bishops, priests, and religious leaders are displaced everywhere.”

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