Civil War In Sudan Threatens Another Humanitarian Disaster – OpEd
By Thalif Deen and IDN
The four-day-old military conflict in Sudan—between two factions of the country’s armed forces—is threatening to unleash a civil war reminiscent of two other nations in the Middle East: Yemen and Syria
The conflict in both countries has resulted in two of the worst humanitarian disasters in recent years resulting in thousands of civilian killings and widespread starvation caused by an acute shortage of food and humanitarian aid.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres prefaced his statement at the opening of the Forum on Financing for Development on 17 April by “strongly condemning” the outbreak of fighting taking place in Sudan.
And he appealed to the leaders of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) “to immediately cease hostilities, restore calm and begin a dialogue to resolve the crisis”.
But judging by the ferocity of the fighting, a cease-fire or a peaceful resolution seems unlikely—at least in the near term.
Guterres said the situation has already led to horrendous loss of life, including many civilians.
“Any further escalation could be devastating for the country and the region. I urge all those with influence over the situation to use it in the cause of peace; to support efforts to end the violence, restore order, and return to the path of transition.“
The fighting has also claimed the lives of several humanitarian workers, including three UN staffers working for the Rome-based World Food Programme (WFP).
As of 17 April, at least 97 people had been killed, according to Cable News Network (CNN) quoting figures from the Preliminary Committee of Sudanese Doctors’ trade union.
On Sunday, 16 April, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated more than 1,126 were injured. The WHO has warned that doctors and nurses are struggling to reach people in need of urgent care and are lacking essential supplies.
The UN has temporarily suspended its humanitarian aid due to security reasons.
Currently, the UN has about 4,000 staffers, including 800 international staffers in Sudan.
Asked how dependent the Sudanese are on UN humanitarian aid, UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters on 17 April, “If you are depending on and dependent on World Food Programme food rations to eat, and those rations are not being distributed. It’s pretty clear what the impact is”.
“If you are relying on the World Health Organization (WHO) for hygiene kits and health kits, and those are not being distributed. It’s pretty clear. The impact is black and white. I read about the millions of people who need humanitarian aid in Sudan. Currently, they’re not getting it because of what’s going on.”
And according to Martin Griffiths, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, more violence would only make things worse for the nearly 16 million people, around a third of the population, in need of humanitarian aid.
Guterres said the humanitarian situation in Sudan was already precarious and is now catastrophic.
“I condemn the deaths and injuries to civilians and humanitarian workers and the targeting and looting of premises. I remind all parties of the need to respect international law, including ensuring the safety and security of all United Nations and associated personnel and humanitarian aid workers.“
During the weekend, he had spoken with the two Sudanese military leaders and is actively engaging with the African Union (AU), the Arab League and leaders across the region.
“I reaffirm that the United Nations stands with the people of Sudan at this very difficult time, with full support for their efforts to restore the democratic transition and build a peaceful, secure future,” he declared.
In a statement released on 16 April, Antony J. Blinken, US Secretary of State, said he welcomed the opportunity to consult with Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud, Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, and Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), “about the dangerous fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Security Forces, which threatens the security and safety of Sudanese civilians and undermines efforts to restore Sudan’s democratic transition”.
“We agreed it was essential for the parties to immediately end hostilities without pre-condition. I urge General Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman al-Burhan and General Mohamed Hamdan Degalo to take active measures to reduce tensions and ensure the safety of all civilians.”
Blinken said the only way forward is to return to negotiations that support the Sudanese people’s democratic aspirations.
“We continue to remain in close touch with our Embassy in Khartoum and have full accountability of our personnel. We also have been communicating with American citizens who may be in the region about safety measures and other precautions.”
An update on the humanitarian situation in Sudan, released on 13 April by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), noted that humanitarian needs across Sudan are at an all-time high, with conflict one of the four most significant risks, alongside natural disasters, disease outbreaks, and economic deterioration.
Volker Türk, the UN human rights chief, has expressed alarm at the unfolding situation, Tweeting on Saturday (15 April) that the people of Sudan “deserve better”. Türk wrote that a “voice of reason” is urgently needed in order to stop violence and “revert to earlier promising path towards peace and civilian transition.”
According to a report on CNN on 17 April, intense and bloody fighting gripped Sudan for a third day, as a violent tussle for power left close to 100 people dead and hundreds more injured and sparked warnings about a humanitarian crisis that has drained hospitals of blood supplies and life-saving equipment.
Hospitals in the country are being targeted with military strikes by both the Army and the RSF, according to eyewitness accounts to CNN and two doctors’ organizations, leaving medical personnel unable to reach the wounded and to bury the dead.
Residents in the capital Khartoum endured sounds of artillery and bombardment by warplanes on Monday, with eyewitnesses telling CNN they heard mortars in the early hours. The fighting intensified after dawn prayers in the direction of Khartoum International Airport and Sudanese Army garrison sites.
Verified video footage showed military jets and helicopters hitting the airport; other clips showed the charred remains of the army’s General Command building nearby after it was engulfed in fire on Sunday, according to CNN.
Thalif Deen, author of the book “No Comment – and Don’t Quote Me on That,” is Editor-at-Large at the Berlin-based IDN, an ex-UN staffer and a former member of the Sri Lanka delegation to the UN General Assembly sessions. A Fulbright scholar with a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Columbia University, New York, he shared the gold medal twice (2012-2013) for excellence in UN reporting awarded by the UN Correspondents Association (UNCA).