Sudan - Osma Degna School food distribution WFP Sudan - Osma Degna School food distribution WFP 

In war-torn Sudan, every other person needs humanitarian aid

Far from the eyes of the world, a ten-month civil war in Sudan has robbed its people of everything: their safety, their homes, and their livelihoods.

By Linda Bordoni

At least 13 Sudanese migrants died and 27 others are missing after their boat sank in the Mediterranean off Tunisia's coast this week as it tried to reach Europe.

They were fleeing violence and a catastrophic humanitarian situation triggered by the outbreak of civil war in Sudan almost 10 months ago, when the paramilitary RSF Forces attacked the ruling military junta and its army in the struggle for power.

CAFOD Sudan, a partner of the Catholic Church’s aid organization Caritas, is on the ground in the northeast African nation, struggling to provide basic necessities to a population in which “every second person“ needs humanitarian assistance.

Samiullah Danish, Programme Development and Funding Officer for CAFOD Sudan, spoke to Vatican News about the desperate crisis, the suffering of the people in Sudan as war continues, and how they feel ignored and forgotten by the international community and the West at large.

A tragedy laid bare

With over 15,000 lives lost and 10 million displaced, the devastating impact of the ten-month-long conflict in Sudan is laid bare.

Describing the living conditions of those still in the country, Danish said, "This conflict has robbed people of nearly everything: their safety, their homes, and their livelihoods." 

The recent expansion of fighting, particularly in Gezira state, once considered Sudan's breadbasket, has led to one of the world's largest displacement and protection crises.

The numbers contained in the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report, he added, tell the harrowing tale of a nation in crisis as it is faced with alarming statistics: Nearly 17.7 million people are acutely food insecure, with 4.9 million in emergency levels of acute food insecurity between October 2023 and February 2024. 

The intense hostilities, Danish went on to note, have not only damaged water supply networks but also crippled health facilities, leaving three-quarters of them non-operational in conflict-affected states. The resulting diseases, including cholera, measles, and malaria, are spreading rapidly.

Sudanese refugees gather outside Adre Hospital in Chad
Sudanese refugees gather outside Adre Hospital in Chad

Children bearing a heavy burden

The children of Sudan bear a heavy burden, with 19 million out of school and widespread human rights violations, Danish said, pointing also to rising levels of gender-based violence, especially in states like Khartoum and Darfur.

The more than 9 million people displaced within the country make it the largest internal displacement crisis globally and the largest child displacement crisis worldwide.

Sudanese refugees, most of them women and children, next to a makeshift shelter in the Chadian border village of Koufroun
Sudanese refugees, most of them women and children, next to a makeshift shelter in the Chadian border village of Koufroun

Food, water, sanitation, hygiene

Amid this dire situation, CAFOD has been actively assisting on the ground. "We have not forgotten the people of Sudan," Danish reiterated.

Despite challenges such as insecurity, bureaucratic obstacles, and poor network access, CAFOD operates from its hub office in White Nile State, delivering crucial services in partnership with local organizations.

The focus, he said, has been on emergency water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services, including the construction and rehabilitation of communal latrines and water network support. Food distribution to internally displaced persons (IDPs) and plans for cash distribution in the coming months demonstrate CAFOD's commitment to addressing immediate needs.

However, Danish emphasized that the scale of the crisis demands more. "Since the war started, it is at a record high with 24.8 million people, or every second person, needing humanitarian assistance in 2024—9 million more than in 2023." 

Urgent needs span food, water, shelter, fuel, education, healthcare, and nutrition. Despite efforts from humanitarian actors, including the UN, the shortfall is evident, especially for internally displaced persons who have lost homes and face daily survival challenges.

Sudanese queue to fill tanks with water from a well in Gadaref city
Sudanese queue to fill tanks with water from a well in Gadaref city

A forgotten war

As the conflict fades from international attention, Danish expressed the sentiment felt by many Sudanese citizens: "People in Sudan feel as if the regional states and the international community have decided to abandon the country." 

Adding to this, he said, amid the collapse of state institutions and no mediation attempts between combatants, “there has been more involvement by some of the outside actors in the region who support the RSF and its leaders without considering the needs of Sudanese people, without paying too much attention to the security and well-being of the Sudanese people.” 

No signs of peace

As regards peace talks or at least plans for a mediation, Danish expressed pessimism. 

Although attempts by the United States and Saudi Arabia have been made, he said they have not borne fruit, and the recent “Ababa Declaration, which was intended to serve as the basis for further negotiations,” remains largely on paper, with verbal commitments unmet. 

Decrying the absence of a clear peace roadmap, CAFOD Sudan’s Development Officer explained that “the people of Sudan, at different levels, have been trying their best to advocate for peace efforts and divert the attention of the international community towards Sudan in bringing the two parties around one table.” 

Young Sudanese carry their belongings as they flee fighting
Young Sudanese carry their belongings as they flee fighting

CAFOD-Caritas Sudan Appeal

With the aim, in particular, to support IDPs in White Nile State with multipurpose cash assistance and hygiene promotion interventions, Danish said CAFOD and Caritas Sudan launched an appeal in December 2023.

The appeal, he explained, asks for about €750,000 a year and has already secured 53% from generous donors. In the coming months, Danish continued, he hopes to mobilize 100% of the budget to support 2,162 households, providing a lifeline for 10,810 beneficiaries: “Fingers crossed!”

Listen to the full interview with Samiullah Danish

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10 February 2024, 15:00