As the deadly conflict between rival military factions in Sudan continues for over five months, threatening to engulf the country and destabilize the region, a high-level event held on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly’s annual general debate on Wednesday underscored the human cost of inaction.
Convened by the United Nations along with the governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, the European Union, and the African Union, participants of the meeting called for a resolution to the conflict and increased support for humanitarian action, as Sudan’s neighbors face a constant influx of refugees and returnees.
700,000 children at risk of death
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), millions of people – particularly in Khartoum, Darfur, and Kordofan – lack access to food, water, shelter, electricity, education, and healthcare.
Malnutrition rates are rising, foreshadowing premature deaths for 700,000 Sudanese children suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Half of the population is experiencing acute food insecurity, and over 6 million people are just one step away from famine. Measles and other diseases are endemic, and sexual and gender-based violence is taking a heavy toll on women and girls.
More than 7 million people, including 3.3 million children, have been displaced, and over 1 million have sought refuge in the Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, and South Sudan.
A challenging humanitarian response
As the fighting continues unabated, the humanitarian response serves as a lifeline for millions of people. However, on a large scale, relief efforts remain insufficient and underfunded, and humanitarian workers face major access challenges on the ground.
“The crisis in Sudan is becoming increasingly dangerous by the day, and the needs are growing,” said Martin Griffiths, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. “Tireless efforts are being made to bring aid convoys through the borders to Darfur and cross conflict lines within the country, but the process is tedious, bureaucratic, and dangerous. We are working hard to expand humanitarian access, but we need a political process to end the fighting and begin building a new Sudan.”
Neighboring countries are also struggling to meet the needs of refugees fleeing violence. “Millions of people forced to leave their homes require urgent humanitarian assistance to keep them alive,” said Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, emphasizing the need for emergency development interventions that enable them to live with dignity wherever they are until they can return home. “But above all, they need the weapons to be silenced and this senseless war to stop,” he said.
International and local political efforts
Rosemary DiCarlo, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, highlighted that “as demonstrated by the fighting in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan regions, the conflict is spreading and leading to increased fragmentation of the country.”
“The belligerent parties are not operating in isolation,” she added. “The conflict is fueled by cross-border mobilization, including along tribal lines, as well as the movement of fighters and the flow of weapons and ammunition from outside the country. This risks plunging the region into a larger conflict.”
Rosemary DiCarlo confirmed that despite numerous challenges, the United Nations Special Political Mission (UNITAMS) has maintained its presence for monitoring and verification of human rights on the ground, as well as support for de-escalation activities. It has also continued its political efforts, in close coordination with the African Union, IGAD, the League of Arab States, and other regional actors, and provides support to civilian political actors in their efforts to unite around a common platform for resolving the conflict.
“Political inaction towards Sudan has already come at a high cost, with thousands of civilians killed, injured, and displaced,” regretted the United Nations Under-Secretary-General. “In addition to essential humanitarian action, we also need to make diplomacy more effective. The international community can – and must – do more to help end the fighting and find a path to political settlement.”
The international response plan needs to be strengthened
In the short term, relief efforts for the population need to be strengthened. The Humanitarian Response Plan for Sudan needs $2.6 billion to assist 18 million people until the end of the year. Currently, it is only 31% funded.
The Sudan Regional Refugee Response Plan, on the other hand, is only 27% funded and is seeking $1 billion to support refugees, returnees, and host communities in five neighboring countries of Sudan.
During a contribution announcement ceremony in Geneva in June, as mentioned in a joint statement by OCHA and UNHCR, donors had pledged nearly $1.5 billion for the response in Sudan and the region.