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Smoke is seen in Khartoum, Sudan, Wednesday, April 19, 2023. Alamy Stock Photo

‘People will die of hunger if they survive bullets’: Concern’s Sudan director pleads for peace

‘There will be a famine situation and people will die of hunger even if they survive the bullets.’

PEOPLE IN SUDAN face starvation unless the warring factions allow aid organisations to safely resume their work.

That is the warning from A.K.M Musha who is Concern’s country director for Sudan.

Musha added that though the Irish aid charity has ceased operations in Sudan, staff continue to work remotely in order to provide as much support to the country as it can.

Speaking to The Journal, Musha explained that his role is to oversee the aid program within Sudan and to “organise and mobilise resources”.

As well as “ensuring that supports are going to the people”, Musha said part of his remit is to “ensure the safety of all staff”.

He described it as an “unprecedented event”, with violent clashes pitting forces loyal to army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan against those backing his deputy turned rival Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, who commands the powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

Around 460 people have died in the conflict so far though the actual figure is thought to be much higher.

“The two wings of the security forces, military and paramilitary, are fighting each other all over the country,” explained Musha.

“It’s really, really difficult and very dangerous for the country and it was difficult to ensure the safety and security of all the staff.”

When fighting broke out on 15 April, Musha told staff to “hibernate and don’t go out”.

Gradually, Concern were able to move staff to a safer location and Musha noted that this was particularly difficult with international staff.

“Staff were staying in Khartoum where the fighting was intense. So we moved to a separate location in Khartoum and stayed there a couple of days.”

On Monday, a UN convoy of 700 people completed a 36-hour journey from Khartoum to Port Sudan, a safe region in the east of the country.

A number of Concern staff were part of this 70 vehicle convoy which travelled over 800 kilometres.

However, there are other areas were Concern is still trying to evacuate national staff.

“In terms of our national staff, we are helping them and guiding them to a safer location,” said Musha.

“Many of our national staff have left Khartoum to the regions where they live and where the fighting is not as intense and it is safer.

“So managing all these and regularly getting information for the management and taking care of the staff is difficult for all organisations, particularly when this violent and active fighting is going on.”

There are around 140 Concern staff still in Sudan and they are remaining in their homes.

‘The people of Sudan are suffering’

Musha noted that “the people of Sudan, the most important part, are really suffering”.

He explained that many are going to neighbouring Chad to the west, to South Sudan, and to Libya in the north-west.  

“Everyone is trying to leave and nobody wants to risk their life waiting for the situation to calm down,” warned Musha.

“We need the parties involved to stop hostilities and ensure safe passage so that organisations can support people.

“The suffering of the people in Sudan is increasing. Sudan was struggling before fighting started, so everybody is in danger and everybody needs a safer place to save their life.

“The bank and institutions are not operating, you cannot get your money out. People can’t pay for food or get a salary, everybody is suffering.”

Musha also notes that while those with a salary are struggling, people “living hand-to-mouth” are acutely impacted because they now have no work.

He also warned of looming food insecurity.

“We have already used most of the previous harvest and we can’t prepare the land for the next harvest because of the fighting,” said Musha.

Land preparation for the harvest occurs in April and May.

“Sudan is going to face a disaster in terms of food insecurity and hunger,” he added.

“A crisis is looming and people will be dying because they can’t get the basic necessities. There will be a famine situation and people will die of hunger even if they survive the bullets.”

Uneasy truce

A 72-hour ceasefire had been agreed between the army and the paramilitary RSF.

It began at midnight on Tuesday (10pm Irish time).

However, Musha warned there is still active fighting in some regions despite the truce.

“Fear is everywhere, there is sporadic shooting, even in Port Sudan (where the UN evacuated people to Monday) we can hear some shooting,” Musha revealed.

“Particularly in Khartoum, tension and fighting is increasing and in the place where active fighting is going on, people are not safe.

“There are a lot of international staff and foreign citizens still struggling to find their way out and many Sudanese are still trying to leave their homes and go to other places.

“But we in Concern will still try to fulfil our responsibility to support people who were already suffering before the fighting.”

While Concern staff are working remotely in supporting those in the health and nutrition sector, and providing support to the government and local agencies, he said it is “not possible to operate” in the country when there is active fighting.

“Yes, we need to save other people, but we need to save our lives as well,” said Musha.

“So the only solution to get out of this situation and to save lives is to ensure the safety of aid organisations.

“The warring parties need to ensure the safety of humanitarian aid workers so that we can resume our work.”

Muska called on the warring factions to “stop all hostilities and ensure safe passage so that organisations can support people”.

“They need to immediately allow space, security and safety for humanitarian workers to go to the people and support who really need our help.”

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