What’s Sudan like after 15 months of war, displacement, and brutality?

Fighting has been reported in the towns of Sinja, Sennar and Dinder, prompting an exodus of civilians to neighnouring states.

A damaged army tank almost one year into the war between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces
A damaged army tank on a street, nearly a year into the war between the SAF and the RSF, in Omdurman, Sudan [File: El Tayeb Siddig/Reuters]

The war in Sudan is approaching its 16th month, with tens of thousands of people killed and millions displaced in what international organisations say is the world’s worst displacement crisis.

Fighting erupted between forces loyal to the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in April 2023, the two factions vying for control of the country.

Sudan has been in transition since the 2019 overthrow of strongman President Omar al-Bashir and a subsequent military coup in 2021 as civilian forces tried to establish a government while the two armed parties sparred.

Here is a roundup of the fighting and its wider effect across the country:

What’s the latest fighting?

The RSF began attacking towns in the southeastern state of Sennar last month, sending more than 136,000 people fleeing since June 24, according to the United Nations.

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Civilians fled fighting in Sennar’s towns of Sinja and al-Dinder, mainly to neighbouring al-Gedaref and Blue Nile states, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a report.

There were already some 286,000 displaced people sheltering in Sinja and al-Dinder before the recent clashes broke out, OCHA said.

“People displaced from Sennar may be experiencing secondary or tertiary displacement,” the report added.

Meanwhile, fighting continues in North Darfur’s el-Fasher, the last capital the Sudanese army holds in the Darfur region.

An attack on a market in the city resulted in 15 civilians being killed and 29 injured, Health Minister Ibrahim Khater told the AFP news agency on Wednesday.

How many people are fleeing?

Approximately 10 million people have been forcibly displaced in Sudan since the war broke out, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Tuesday.

Some 7.7 million are internally displaced, while more than two million have fled to neighbouring countries – including Egypt, Chad, the Central African Republic and Ethiopia.

The UNHCR said it was expanding its Sudan refugee response plan for the year to Libya and Uganda, where it is expecting 149,000 and 55,000 refugees, respectively.

“It just speaks to the desperate situation and desperate decisions that people are making, that they end up in a place like Libya which is of course extremely, extremely difficult for refugees right now,” Ewan Watson, head of global communications at UNHCR, told reporters.

Libya has already received more than 20,000 registered refugees from Sudan since the war began, the UNHCR said.

Are the international agencies helping everyone?

UNHCR got only 19 percent of the funds it needs for its refugee response, Watson said, adding that had forced them to “drastically cut” food rations.

Last week, the UN hunger monitoring system, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), said Sudan is facing the worst food crisis in its history.

People hold pots as volunteers distribute food in Omdurman, Sudan, September 3, 2023.
Children wait for food assistance from volunteer groups in Omdurman, Sudan [File: El Tayeb Siddig/Reuters]

Some 755,000 people are facing “catastrophe” in 10 out of 18 states, the most severe level of extreme hunger, according to the IPC.

Meanwhile, 18 percent of the population, or 8.5 million people, struggle with food shortages that could lead to severe malnutrition and potentially death, the IPC added.

“There is a risk of famine in 14 areas […in Greater Darfur, Greater Kordofan, Al Jazirah states and some hotspots in Khartoum] if the conflict escalates further,” IPC warned.

“[Conflict escalation] would contribute to the ongoing restrictions on humanitarian access to the besieged population in critical areas and restrict people’s ability to engage in farming and casual labour activities during the upcoming agricultural season.”

What about diplomatic efforts to end the war?

On Saturday, rival factions the Democratic Bloc and Taqaddum, attended reconciliation talks in Cairo, Egypt, but refused to hold joint sessions.

The Democratic Bloc is army-aligned, while Taqaddum is accused by it of sympathising with the RSF. Neither of the belligerent parties themselves attended the talks.

Several attempts at securing a ceasefire have failed.

Talks in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in May 2023 facilitated by Saudi and US officials led to a declaration of commitments to safeguard civilians and two short-term ceasefire deals that were repeatedly violated.

The UN Security Council in March passed a resolution calling for a ceasefire during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The RSF did not respond to SAF head Abdel Fattah al-Burhan’s condition that the paramilitary group withdraw from provinces they had taken control of.

Source: Al Jazeera