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Smoke rises in Omdurman, near Halfaya Bridge, during clashes between the Paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army as seen from Khartoum North, Sudan Alamy Stock Photo
Sudan Conflict

Concern and Goal suspend aid activity in Sudan as NGOs struggle to cope with ongoing violence

“If it continues like this, I don’t know what the consequences will be. It will be terrible.”

LAST UPDATE | 18 Apr 2023

IRISH CHARITIES CONCERN and Goal have issued calls for their staff in Sudan to “hibernate” by staying indoors as violent clashes continue between rival factions vying for control of the north-east African country.

They and a number of other NGOs have also suspended operations in Sudan.

“Our staff have been ordered to hibernate and Concern’s humanitarian work in Sudan is temporarily suspended,” Concern’s Head of International Programmes, Carol Morgan, said in statement. 

“The situation in Sudan is very volatile and all staff  have been ordered to remain indoors. Conditions are challenging with electricity supplies to many communities cut, and water and food supplies running low.” 

Concern has teams working  in West Darfur, in western Sudan, as well as West Kordofan and South Kordofan in the south of the country.

Like Concern, the UN’s food agency (World Food Programme) said on Sunday that it was suspending work in Sudan after three staff members were killed in the Darfur region.

“I am appalled and heartbroken by the tragic deaths of three WFP employees on Saturday 15 April in violence in Kabkabiya, North Darfur while carrying out their lifesaving duties on the front lines of the global hunger crisis,” Cindy McCain, executive director of the World Food Programme, said in a statement.

“While we review the evolving security situation, we are forced to temporarily halt all operations in Sudan,” she said.

“WFP is committed to assisting the Sudanese people facing dire food insecurity, but we cannot do our lifesaving work if the safety and security of our teams and partners is not guaranteed,” she said.

Goal

The charity Goal has also said its main priority is ensuring the safety of its staff.

In a statement to The Journal, Goal said: “Following the escalation of conflict in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum this week, Irish humanitarian aid organisation GOAL says that ensuring the safety of its 260 staff, including 10 international staff, in Sudan, is its main priority.

“Goal has been working with conflict-affected people in Sudan since 1985 and currently has over 30 staff in their office in Khartoum. The agency also has over 230 field staff in two remote regions of Sudan; Darfur in the west of the country, and South Kordofan in the south.”

Paul Westbury, Goal’s regional security advisor for east Africa, said the intensity of the fighting in Khartoum and other parts of Sudan is putting innocent civilian lives at significant risk.

“This deadly power struggle in Khartoum has seen use of heavy weaponry, bombardments, and air strikes across the city heavy weapons. As a result, we have advised our staff to hibernate and not to leave their homes.”

Outside of Khartoum, Goal has 230 staff in Darfur and South Kordofan. “Those field staff are reporting sporadic fighting and the two factions are clashing there too. Again, our staff there are holding at home or in their offices,” Westbury said.

“We are in constant contact with Goal Sudan management and security staff, who are using their channels to pass messages to all staff. We’re advising our staff to stay away from windows, keep low, and stay in the centre of the building where they may be more protected from stray bullets.

“Staff also receive regular training on operating in hostile environments”.

Jessica Cope, country director for Goal Sudan says that humanitarian programming in the conflict-affected country, which is already impacted by drought, displacement, and hunger, has had to be suspended until it is safe for staff to resume aid operations.

“Unfortunately, we can’t take the risk of our staff being put in situations that put them in danger, so programming has been suspended. The risk here is very real.

“When we get an indication that we can safely move people, including our international staff in Sudan, to more secure settings, we will do so as soon as possible.”

Fresh conflict

Violence erupted on the streets of the capital Khartoum and in other parts of the country on Saturday as the Sudanese Military, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan clashed with the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group (RSF), led by Burhan’s former deputy Mohamed ‘Hemedti’ Hamdan Daglo.

The two generals took control of the country via a coup in 2021 but the RSF and military have been rivals since the regime of the country’s now-imprisoned former leader Omar al-Bashir, who was deposed in a coup in 2019. 

The conflict has already taken the lives of almost 200 civilians, according to the UN. 

Hamstrung NGOs 

Concern and WFP are not the only NGO facing dangerous conditions in Sudan. 

Germain Mewhu of the International Committee of the Red Cross, who is based in Sudan, spoke to The Journal about the humanitarian situation there and the challenges his organisation is facing due to the recent fighting. 

“This affects everyone, including humanitarian organisations. It’s almost impossible to move, to go out, specifically in Khartoum.”

His ICRC team did manage to go out and provide medical assistance to hospitals in Darfur this week but not without difficulty. 

“We managed, which is a good thing, but’s it’s generally very difficult to go out because in the cities they are fighting and we didn’t get security guarantees from both parties to allow us to go out safely.

“We sent a public call to both parties and we contacted them bilaterally to ask them to facilitate the work of humanitarian organisations.” 

The recent outbreak of fighting has piled pressure on a country that has already suffered years of conflict and humanitarian crises in one form or another, including civil war, coups and natural disasters. 

One area that is sure to get worse is the healthcare sector, which is already struggling to cope with casualties caused by the violence over the last four days. 

“The main need is about providing medical assistance to wounded people. There are many wounded people in hospitals and they need medical support. Hospitals don’t have enough medicine and medical supplies.” 

Water supply is also an issue, especially in the capital of Khartoum, says Mewhu. 

“In many parts of Khartoum, people don’t have access to water. The reason is water stations work thanks to electricity and electricity stations in many cases don’t work because those in charge of maintenance can’t leave the house and go there to do the maintenance. 

“If it continues like this, I don’t know what the consequences will be. It will be terrible.”

Another pressing issue is the number of people who are stranded in different parts of the country and are unable to go home because of the fighting. 

For example, people who were in the airport when the fighting broke on Saturday have been unable to leave since. 

To add to these struggles, telecommunications are patchy in Sudan at the moment, which is also likely a result of workers being forced to stay at home, Mewhu says.  

He also made an appeal on behalf of the ICRC, “calling on all parties involved in this crisis – the fighting taking place in populated areas – asking them to respect the basics of international humanitarian law.

“It means, concretely, to protect as much as possible the civilian population, to facilitate the work of humanitarian organisations, to allow ambulances and health workers to move and to reach hospitals and to transport those who are sick and wounded. And also for those who are detainees to be treated humanely.” 

Of one voice

The International Federation of the Red Cross (a different organisation to ICRC) and the World Health Organization also issued a similar appeal on earlier today. 

“We have thousands of volunteers who are ready, able and trained to perform humanitarian services” in the country, said Farid Aiywar, the Sudan head of delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

“Unfortunately, due to the current situation, they are not able to move.” 

Aiywar called on all parties to allow humanitarian aid corridors to operate.

UN spokeswoman Alessandra Vellucci said the United Nations had about 800 international staff and 3,200 national staff in Sudan.

“We are of course worried for the security, they cannot operate in a regular way,” she said.

Despite international appeals for an immediate halt to the violence in Sudan, fighting entered a fourth day today, with the UN counting nearly 200 dead.

Civilians are staying indoors but electricity and water have been cut and food supplies are short.

“We get calls from all sorts of corners, people who want to have basic things, food for their family,” Aiywar said.

“We (are) reuniting children with their parents, and yet you cannot move, you cannot provide them the basic services of providing a bottle of water or meal for a child.

“There is a disruption of the health system and if it continues, it will almost go into a collapse,” he warned.

WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said many of Khartoum’s nine hospitals that are treating injured civilians are reporting shortages of crucial supplies such as “blood, transfusion equipment, intravenous fluids, medical supplies and other life-saving commodities”.

The WHO also condemned attacks on health infrastructure, with Harris noting three cases had already been documented, “but we know of many more”.

“The parties must ensure that care can be provided and it can’t be if staff and ambulances and supplies cannot be moved around safely.”

 

With additional reporting from © AFP 2023 

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