Sudan fighting forces aid groups to halt, spreading suffering

Humanitarian organisations say operations are at a standstill as they look to resume work in some areas of Sudan.

People fill barrels with water in southern Khartoum on April 22, 2023, amid water shortages
People fill barrels with water in southern Khartoum amid water shortages caused by ongoing battles [AFP]

All across Sudan, humanitarian efforts are at a standstill as organisations scramble to figure out how they can continue operating while ensuring the safety of their workers in the midst of fighting between the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) that broke out on April 15.

Even before the recent fighting, nearly 16 million people in Sudan were reliant on aid out of a population of approximately 46 million, with more than four million refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) in the country.

This large vulnerable population makes the work of international aid organisations vital, with an estimated number of nearly 100 organisations of varying sizes working across the country, especially in areas where infrastructure and resource distribution are weak.

(Al Jazeera)

Even in the capital, supplies of petrol, food, medicine, and other items are running low as constant electricity and internet outages make communication difficult among civilians and aid workers.

In addition to the people who already live on a knife’s edge, hospitals and medical facilities have borne the brunt of this, as doctors are unable to perform lifesaving and routine procedures, in some cases because the hospital is being directly hit in the fighting. One hospital after another has been forced to close.

As the death toll rises and the sick and injured find it harder and harder to access treatment, those who are able to leave are taking any available transport out of Khartoum and Sudan – northeast to Port Sudan on the Red Sea, north to Egypt, and over the border into Chad and South Sudan.

Foreign governments, as well as international organisations, are also in the process of evacuating their staff and citizens from Sudan.

‘Nothing can move’

For 2023, UN agencies and partners – about 90 organisations in all – had published a Humanitarian Response Plan for Sudan that aimed to help 80 percent of the estimated 15.8 million people in need in the country and to “support the implementation of resilience”.

In their estimates, the number of people needing the most basic assistance to stay alive – food, healthcare, water and sanitation – was about 11 million, with big concentrations in the country’s south and east.

But these plans were halted.

On the first day of fighting, three World Food Programme staff were killed and two injured in Darfur, and the programme halted its operations, as did a number of other organisations that were forced to tell their staff to shelter in place.

Danish Refugee Council’s (DRC) James Curtis told Al Jazeera the organisation – a UN partner that provides emergency response for refugees and IDPs – is hoping to resume some operations soon, circumstances permitting.

The DRC has 183 national staff members, but they are trapped at home and the power and internet outages have made communication, logistics and planning “very challenging”, the executive director for East Africa and Great Lakes said.

“Currently, within Sudan, nothing can move. The airports across the country have all been closed since the fighting began, and there is fighting in the streets,” Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) Project Coordinator Cyrus Paye told Al Jazeera.

“We cannot get more supplies to North Darfur or into the country … if the situation doesn’t change and humanitarian access is not granted, there will be even greater loss of life.”

MSF has a team of more than 1,000 full-time staff deployed in Gadarif, Kassala, Darfur and Khartoum, where they normally work in emergency rooms and offer maternal healthcare, nutritional services and vaccinations.

On Friday alone, Cyrus Paye said, a hospital in el-Fasher, North Darfur, received 279 wounded patients and recorded 44 deaths, adding that many of the wounded there and elsewhere were children.

“They have fractures caused by bullets, or they have gunshot wounds or shrapnel [wounds] … There are so many patients that they are being treated on the floor in the corridors because there simply aren’t enough beds.”

Save the Children, which is also unable to provide its services in Sudan, said on April 17 that the fighting was interrupting the supply of food, clean water, and other lifesaving aid to thousands in a country where one-third of the population already needs humanitarian assistance.

The aid group said its offices in Darfur have been raided by looters who stole medical supplies for children, a refrigerator, laptops and cars, worsening its struggle to deliver its services.


Elsadig Elnour, Sudan country director for Islamic Relief, another UN partner, told Al Jazeera that most of their international staff had been evacuated to Port Sudan, 850km (530 miles) from Khartoum, as the country’s airspace is currently closed – the rest of the staff, he says, are “hibernating”.

The current hostilities mean that, for Islamic Relief, “humanitarian assistance is not possible” and “operations are suspended until the situation is improved”, he added.

In the absence of international organisations working on the ground, the Sudanese people have had to rely on grassroots committees and civil society organisations that have been activated many times in the past to allow people to help each other.

There are many “Sudanese local organisations and activists doing their own brave work on the ground, which many of us couldn’t do”, Karl Schembri, the regional media adviser for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), told Al Jazeera.

His group, he said, is “still at a standstill when delivering aid, but depending on the security assessments, we are hoping to start delivering to the thousands who have been displaced from this week.”

Tomas Okedi, NRC area manager in el-Fasher, said on Thursday that a car carrying NRC staff had been attacked but, fortunately, no one was injured.

Wad Madani in Sudan
Wad Madani, Sudan [Courtesy of NRC]

Ahmed Omer, NRC communications coordinator who managed to travel to Wad Madani on Monday for a needs assessment, said thousands of people had fled there from Kharotum.

“It is chaos there,” he said. “We were also told about many South Sudanese, Somali, Ethiopian and Yemeni refugees on the move.

“They are very weary, tired and hungry as most walked all the way from Khartoum,” he said, adding that most of the IDPs are women and children and are suffering the shortage of food, water, soap, and clothing.

Omer said while the authorities are trying to find accommodation, many IDPs are staying at locals’ homes, youth hostels and schools.

“On the way back, I saw more people heading to Gadarif, including expats who were living in Khartoum. The road was crowded with people travelling east,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera