With Shouts And Machine Guns, Half Of Sudan In Desperate Need Of Aid

"Today, 25 million people -- more than half the population of Sudan -- need humanitarian aid and protection," Ramesh Rajasingham, head of the UN humanitarian agency's Geneva bureau, told reporters there

FILE: Smoke rises above buildings in Khartoum, as violence between two rival Sudanese generals continues, on May 17, 2023. Khartoum was again rocked by battles on May 17, more than a month into a brutal war that has made “more than half” of the already impoverished country in need of aid, according to the United Nations. (Photo by AFP)


On a sandy lot below a Khartoum apartment building, helmetless Sudanese soldiers in a mishmash of uniforms raised their fists as machine gunners blasted away from atop two small trucks.

It was another day in a war which has not stopped for more than a month, and continued Wednesday, as the UN reported that more than 50 percent of the country’s people needs aid.

“Today, 25 million people — more than half the population of Sudan — need humanitarian aid and protection,” Ramesh Rajasingham, head of the UN humanitarian agency’s Geneva bureau, told reporters there.

“That is the highest number we have ever seen in the country,” where one in three already relied on assistance before the war and millions had been displaced by previous conflicts.

Around 1,000 people have been killed, mainly in and around Khartoum as well as the long-troubled western region of Darfur.

Nearly a million others have been displaced by the battles between army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, who leads the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

Analysts say neither side has been able to seize an advantage on the battlefield, which played out in one part of Khartoum on Tuesday.

Smoke mars a clear sky

In front of the five-storey apartment building, some soldiers stood casually with rocket-propelled grenade launchers and another danced about with a belt-fed machine gun on ground that appeared littered with dozens of spent large-calibre shell casings.

Soldiers shouted as machine guns spewed fire from atop a pickup truck, a small armoured car, and a tank beside some trees near a billboard for a car showroom.

The clear blue sky was marred only by faint dark smoke rising behind them.

In other parts of the capital, long mounds of dirt are piled beside roads where military trenches have been dug.

With bullets flying, Rajasingham said millions remained confined to their homes, unable to access basic services and health care.

More than 5,000 people have been injured.

In Africa’s third-largest country, many areas remain untouched by the fighting but still suffer its effects, with soaring prices and shortages of fuel.

“Petrol is not available now and the price has increased on the black market. People can’t transport their vegetables,” said Abu Bakr Abdullah, 27, a farmer in River Nile state.

Another farmer, Qamar al-Bashir, 52, complained that four years have passed since longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir was toppled but “they have not been able to form a government”.

A coup in 2021 by Burhan and Daglo derailed a fragile transition to civilian rule.

“Enough!” said the farmer. “You can’t move the country forward, do you move it backwards? And at the end you take us to war for your own personal interests.”

They “are losers”, all of them, he said.

Last Thursday the warring sides signed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, a commitment to respect humanitarian principles and allow in badly needed aid.

“However, reports of attacks continued and, on 12 May, violence in El Geneina reportedly escalated,” a UN report said.

Toby Harward, of the UN’s refugee agency, reported an “extremely disturbing” situation in El Geneina, the West Darfur capital.

Looting, destruction

Hundreds of civilians have been killed in militia attacks on residential areas and street battles between “community-aligned forces”. There has also been looting and destruction at markets, camps for displaced people, and other locations, he wrote on Twitter.

In Khartoum North, a factory that produced food to treat malnourished children burned down, according to the UN Children’s Fund.

Still, Rajasingham voiced hope the Jeddah agreement was having some effect.

He said fighters had pulled back from some of the health facilities previously occupied, and highlighted an uptick in aid deliveries.

“We do need much more,” he said.

Much more money is needed too.

The UN said $2.56 billion is now expected to be required to provide assistance for 18 million people inside Sudan. That is up from the $1.75 billion estimated at the end of last year.

An additional $470.4 million would be needed to assist those fleeing the country, the UN’s refugee agency said, adding that it was now planning for up to 1.1 million people to cross out of Sudan this year alone.

Just two weeks ago, the UNHCR had said it would need $445 million through October to address the needs of as many as 860,000 people who might flee the country.

“The crisis in Sudan is rapidly evolving into a regional crisis,” Rajasingham said.

Sudan’s war is expected to be a major agenda item during the Arab League summit on Friday in Saudi Arabia.

Heavyweights in the pan-Arab bloc are divided on Sudan, with Egypt supporting Burhan and the United Arab Emirates, according to experts, seen to be backing the RSF.