Sudan: UN aid operation continues amid dire humanitarian conditions
Ten days of fighting between rival military forces have had a devastating impact on the country’s population. The UN humanitarian affairs office (OCHA) warned that people are lacking food, water, medicines and fuel, power is limited, and the prices of essential items as well as transport have skyrocketed.
OCHA spokesperson Jens Laerke told reporters in Geneva that the people of Sudan, already “deeply affected” by humanitarian needs, are now “staring into the abyss”. He underscored that humanitarian operations were also impacted, and that there were more reports of looting of humanitarian supplies and warehouses.
Aid delivery ‘whenever and wherever feasible’
Following a temporary relocation of hundreds of UN staff members and their families from the Sudanese capital Khartoum on Monday, a UN leadership team will remain in Sudan to oversee humanitarian operations going forward. Mr. Laerke said a humanitarian hub is being established in the Red Sea coastal city of Port Sudan.
“We and our partners continue to deliver whenever and wherever feasible”, insisted Mr. Laerke, before emphasizing the “heroic” efforts of the Sudanese people themselves. He said that civil society networks are responding to the most urgent needs in their communities, “including mobilizing medical assistance, distributing food and water, and assisting civilians”.
Before the fighting erupted, some 15.8 million people – about a third of the Sudanese population – were already in need of aid.
Rising death and injury toll
According to figures from the Sudanese Health Ministry quoted by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday, 459 people had been killed in the fighting and over 4,000 injured as of 24 April.
WHO noted that the actual figures “are likely to be higher” as at least a quarter of all health facilities in Khartoum, where most of the fighting is taking place, are not functional.
Attacks on healthcare
The UN’s health agency has verified 14 attacks on health since the violence began, with 8 deaths and 2 injuries. WHO said that the attacks “must stop” as they bar people in need from accessing essential health services.
WHO also flagged rising health concerns due to ongoing outbreaks of dengue and malaria, as well as a looming cholera alert amid damage to water infrastructure.
“As the needs are increasing, violence has made the delivery of aid near impossible”, WHO said. The agency stressed that it has stocks of essential medicines, blood bags, and supplies for surgery and trauma care “waiting for delivery as soon as safe access is ensured”.
On Monday, UN chief António Guterres made clear in the UN Security Council that the UN would stay and deliver, and stand by the Sudanese people, as they continue to strive towards civilian rule and a new, democratic future.
Key lab under threat
Speaking to reporters from Sudan on Tuesday, WHO’s representative in the country, Dr Nima Saeed Abid, also said that the agency is concerned about the occupation of the National Public Health Laboratory by one of the parties involved in the fighting.
“Trained laboratory technicians no longer have access to the laboratory, and with power cuts, it is not possible to properly manage the biological materials that are stored in the laboratory for medical purposes”, WHO said. In addition to “very high” biological hazards, there is also a risk of spoilage of stocks of much-needed blood bags, as the lab is also the site of the central blood bank.
The fighting has already displaced thousands of people, and Paul Dillon, the spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said the agency has activated a displacement tracking tool at 16 points of entry in neighbouring countries to monitor incoming flows.
Data generated by the tool is broken down by age, gender and health needs, and provided to all humanitarian actors to inform their response.
IOM warned that monitoring and relief teams are engaged in a race against time as the arrival of rainy season in late May – early June is projected to cut off large swaths of the border area between Sudan and Chad.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) told reporters on Tuesday that the most significant cross-border movements in the region have been Sudanese fleeing to Chad, and South Sudanese refugees returning to their country. UNHCR has received reports of people starting to arrive in Egypt, but no numbers are available.
UNHCR said that it is “working closely” with partners and governments in the region to assess and respond to the needs of the new arrivals. The agency also thanked neighbouring countries “for continuing to keep their borders open to those fleeing Sudan – whether to seek international protection or to return to their countries of origin”.
Seeking safety in Chad
UNHCR said that since the fighting started, “at least 20,000 refugees” have fled across the border into Chad, and more are expected to arrive. Speaking from Ndjamena, UNHCR Representative in Chad, Laura Lo Castro, told reporters in Geneva that in the worst-case scenario, as many as 100,000 could cross into the country.
The agency said planning is underway to relocate the new arrivals to an existing refugee camp further from the border, “while a new location is being identified to host additional arrivals”. Chad already hosts over 400,000 Sudanese refugees.
South Sudanese return
Speaking from Juba, UNHCR Representative in South Sudan, Marie-Helene Verney said that the agency has managed to interview and register some 4,000 South Sudanese returnees so far, amid a “very difficult” situation at the country’s northern border.
Many new arrivals lack the means to continue their journey, which is why UNHCR is helping facilitate their onward travel, providing clean water and setting up reception centres. The agency said that overall, there are over 800,000 South Sudanese refugees in Sudan, a quarter of whom are in Khartoum and “directly affected by the fighting”.
Impact on host communities
Ms. Verney also said that for UNHCR, the most likely scenario involved some 100,000 refugees returning to South Sudan, and this was the agency’s “contingency planning figure”. In addition, as many as 45,000 Sudanese could take refuge in South Sudan as well.
Ms. Verney stressed UNHCR was “very concerned” about the impact on host communities. Some 75 per cent of the population of South Sudan are already in need of humanitarian aid.