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Calls for aid to Sudan after one year of civil war

19 April 2024

Conflict has spiralled into the world’s largest humanitarian crisis


A once-vibrant market in Omdurman, Sudan, pictured on Sunday, which has been devastated by the civil conflict

A once-vibrant market in Omdurman, Sudan, pictured on Sunday, which has been devastated by the civil conflict

ONE year since the outbreak of the civil war in Sudan, women and girls raped are now giving birth, UNICEF reports. Some are too weak to nurse their infants.

The conflict, expected by some to last a matter of days, has spiralled into the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. More than 8.5 million people have been displaced, and 25 million are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. The lean season is set to begin next month, and aid levels have not been enough to prevent reports already of starvation. The World Food Programme (WFP) has warned of “unprecedented levels of starvation and malnutrition”.

At least 1.8 million people have fled into neighbouring countries. In South Sudan, owing to a lack of funds, three million “acutely hungry people” are receiving no assistance from the WFP, while in Chad — one of the world’s poorest countries — the agency has warned that it will have to end its support to all 1.2 million refugees and nearly three million “acutely hungry” Chadians.

Pledges made at an international humanitarian conference in Paris on Saturday fell “far short” of the £2.2 billion “urgently needed”, CAFOD’s head of region for Africa, Kayode Akintola, said. “Reports of starvation are already emerging, with food-security watchdogs warning the risk of famine is imminent.”

The UN reports that the majority — 90 per cent — of those enduring “emergency” levels of hunger are “trapped in active battle zones”. Both sides are hindering aid delivery, it reports; entry into Darfur — where entire villages are being set on fire — is particularly difficult.

The conflict erupted on 15 April last year, when fighting broke out in Khartoum between the Sudanese Armed Forces, loyal to the head of the military government, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and those of his deputy, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who leads the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) militia (News, 21 April 2023).

It followed a military coup in 2021, when General al-Burhan announced that he had dissolved the joint civilian-military government established in 2019, after the overthrow of Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s dictator for three decades (News, 29 October 2021). The RSF, founded by President al-Bashir to crush a rebellion in Darfur, had supported his removal. Formed from the Janjaweed, the force has been accused of carrying out ethnic cleansing against non-Arabs in Darfur — a campaign said to have resumed.

In a recent dispatch from refugee camps in Chad, The Guardian reported an “unfolding dystopian nightmare” in Darfur: “Women raped in front of their children, daughters raped in front of their mothers. Boys shot in the street. Others dragged away and never seen again.”

“Our schools, hospitals, mosques and universities have been destroyed and millions of Sudanese have been displaced,” Ahmed Ali, one of many Sudanese trapped in their homes in Khartoum, wrote in The Times on Tuesday. “We were ordered by the forces to bury our dead in our yards and not to go to the cemeteries. Our children’s school has become the makeshift graveyard in our neighbourhood. I have helped dig many graves for children, their mothers and fathers. . .

“My son worries if this graveyard will ever be a school again. ‘Will the dead be upset with us if we go to school?’ he asked recently.”

He described the two warring parties as “thieves who have stolen our lives and our futures, in the name of nothing. . . I see no will to stop the fighting, even if the cost is decimation of the state as well as its citizens.”

This week, the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, repeated his calls for a ceasefire, peace process, and political solution: his personal envoy is said to be “working tirelessly” to mediate more talks between the rival generals.

“I pray for my brother Archbishop Ezekiel and all who suffer because of the conflict in Sudan, as we lament a year of fighting there,” Archbishop Welby wrote on social media on Sunday. “This violence can and must end. May this year see genuine commitment to a peace process and relief for the millions of people on the brink of famine and who have been forced to flee their homes. We will not turn away from them.”

This week, the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, spoke of plans to visit Sudan. People in the diocese — which is linked with Sudan — were in touch with the Church there almost every day. The Archbishop, the Most Revd Ezekiel Kondo, was forced to flee Khartoum after an attack on the cathedral compound in the early days of the war, and is now based in Port Sudan.

Bishop Baines said that money was being sent to the Church, with the aim of supporting food delivery and enabling clergy to continue their ministry. The forthcoming visit would inform questions tabled by the bishops in the House of Lords, he said. It remained a challenge to keep the country “on the radar”.

This week, a Sudanese journalist, Zeinab Mohammed Salih, wrote for the BBC of “trying to tell our story but it feels that the world is looking away”.

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