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Kevin ClarkeApril 18, 2024
Sudanese families fleeing the conflict in Sudan's Darfur region, make their way through the desert after they crossed the border between Sudan and Chad to seek refuge in Goungour, Chad, May 12, 2023. (OSV News photo/Zohra Bensemra, Reuters)Sudanese families fleeing the conflict in Sudan's Darfur region, make their way through the desert after they crossed the border between Sudan and Chad to seek refuge in Goungour, Chad, May 12, 2023. (OSV News photo/Zohra Bensemra, Reuters)

The Weekly Dispatch takes a deep dive into breaking events and issues of significance around our world and our nation today, providing the background readers need to make better sense of the headlines speeding past us each week. For more news and analysis from around the world, visit Dispatches.

The human suffering in Gaza, where close to 34,000 people have been killed since Hamas provoked a renewed conflict with Israel in October, has been grimly documented each day in global media. But in Sudan, the dying continued into its second year this week without nearly as much attention—even though the scale of Sudan’s agony makes it perhaps the worst humanitarian crisis in Africa.

Almost 15,000 people have been killed since fighting began between two competing military groups last year, a figure that is almost certainly an underestimate, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch. H.R.W. reports that Sudan now represents the world’s largest internal displacement crisis, with more than six million uprooted from their homes and communities inside Sudan’s borders.

The conflict has been marked by reports of atrocities, including the killing of noncombatants, displacement and rape, particularly around the capital of Khartoum and Sudan’s western region of Darfur. Much of the country’s infrastructure—homes, hospitals and schools—has been reduced to rubble.

“The world is forgetting about the people of Sudan,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres told reporters after the Security Council met to discuss the Sudan crisis on April 15. He described the conflict between the national army and a formidable paramilitary militia as “a war being waged on the Sudanese people.”

“The only path out of this horror is a political solution,” the secretary-general said. “At this critical moment, in addition to global support for aid, we need a concerted global push for a ceasefire in Sudan followed by a comprehensive peace process.”

The fighting has disrupted harvests and food and commodity markets; food prices across the region have been spiking. Five million people are at acute risk of starvation in the coming months, H.R.W. reports.

Shane Burke is the Deputy Regional Director for Jesuit Refugee Service in Nairobi, Kenya. Responding to America by email on April 17, he said the crisis in Sudan has been creating a significant spillover impact on the nations around it. Almost two million more people have fled into neighboring countries—among them the Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia and South Sudan—nations already deeply unstable themselves because of conflict and deprivation.

Humanitarian agencies warn that a conflict-driven famine will not be limited to Sudan. In Chad, which currently hosts more than half of all Sudanese refugees in the region, the government declared a food and nutrition emergency in February and forecasts that more than three million people will face acute food insecurity this year.

Paul Emes, Catholic Relief Services’ country representative for Sudan, reported by email on April 18 that C.R.S. was coordinating its response to the crisis through local church partners, including Caritas Egypt and Caritas Mongo in Chad, providing support for Sudanese refugees in those nations.

“Despite the lack of global focus on Sudan, C.R.S. is committed to continuing our work here and will remain as long as there is a need,” he said.

Mr. Burke urged greater international pressure on Sudan’s combatants to end the fighting and greater attention from the global public in providing the resources to “rebuild infrastructure and set up a functioning government” in Khartoum. “Our own close donors are supporting us but the bigger institutional donors are not coming forward with funds to match the needs on the ground,” Mr. Burke said, adding that many relief agencies, like J.R.S., are rushing to set up humanitarian staging areas in nations around Sudan.

He worries that in a world simultaneously confronting a number of other notable humanitarian catastrophes, the dire conditions in Sudan are escaping the attention of the global public.

The “war of the generals” began when escalating tensions between the Sudanese Armed Forces and Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces broke out into open conflict in Khartoum on April 15, 2023. Since then the conflict has spread across the country. The Sudanese army is commanded by the nation’s de facto president, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the R.S.F., a well-equipped paramilitary group, is led by Sudan’s deputy head of state, General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, “Little Mohammed.”

The two military leaders had a falling out over a plan to integrate the R.S.F. into the regular army and over how to divide the country’s wealth, according to Aid to the Church in Need. Sudan is the third largest producer of gold in Africa, A.C.N. reports, adding that General Dagalo is the owner of several gold mines in Sudan’s north. General al-Burhan oversees many buildings and businesses owned by the Sudanese army, a force reluctant to surrender control of those properties and interests to a civilian government.

Before open conflict erupted last year, the generals had been briefly allied in putting an end to a civilian government that had emerged in Khartoum after the dictator Omar al-Bashir was deposed in 2019. At that time, many Sudanese hoped their country would finally have a chance to transition to democracy and a civilian-led government.

The two generals have trampled those hopes, leading Sudan back into the kind of chaos and commonplace brutality that had characterized the worst days of Mr. al-Bashir’s rule. Hemedti’s Rapid Support Forces emerged from the Janjaweed militia, best known for ethnic cleansing campaigns on communities in Darfur.

Mr. al-Bashir and other top Sudanese officials have been charged with genocide and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court because of the military rampage in Darfur, where both Generals al-Burhan and Dagalo served. It is no surprise that as violence has escalated across Sudan this past year that Darfur has been suffering the worst.

Given the intensity of the fighting, “many local people are wondering how the two sides have so many weapons available after a year of fighting, and therefore, who is funding them,” said Kinga Schierstaedt, project coordinator for A.C.N. in Sudan.

The local church, A.C.N. reports, has been “shrinking away” under the pressure of the conflict.

“Before the war, it represented five percent of the population, but it was tolerated and could run some hospitals and schools—even if it wasn’t allowed to openly proclaim the faith,” Ms. Schierstadt said.

Now many thousands of Sudan’s Christians have fled, settling “in refugee camps where survival is a daily battle. Today, the very existence of the church in Sudan is in question.”

According to A.C.N., the fall of Mr. al-Bashir led to improvements in religious liberty, and punishments according to the Sharia penal code were abolished. But this newfound freedom for the tiny Catholic community in Sudan has proved short-lived.

Donors step up in Paris

At a meeting in Paris convened on the April 15 anniversary of the conflict, hosted jointly by France, Germany and the European Union, top diplomatic envoys, U.N. officials and aid agencies urged the generals to stop attacks on civilians and allow access for humanitarian aid, calling for immediate international mediation efforts toward peace. Members of Sudan’s civil society took part at the Paris meeting, but neither the Sudanese army nor the R.S.F. sent representatives.

Addressing the conference participants, Joyce Msuya, the U.N.’s Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, said “an avalanche of suffering” has engulfed Sudan. “Hunger is skyrocketing. Health systems have crumbled. Pregnant women are dying in labor. And the entire generation of children is missing out on an education.”

Ms. Msuya said violations of international humanitarian law in Sudan are commonplace. “Women and girls are being terrorized amid a wave of conflict-related sexual violence,” Ms. Msuya said. “Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed or injured, some of them victims of reported ethnic-based killings that remind us of the dark days in Darfur 20 years ago.”

A sign of hope, according to Ms. Msuya, has been the response of the humanitarian aid community, which remains active despite the violence. But those efforts, she warned, are seriously underfunded. The United Nations 2024 humanitarian appeal for Sudan has so far received just 6 percent of the funding level it requested.

The global community has “a very narrow window to act,” she added. “If we do not have additional funding to deliver seeds and tools by June, farmers will miss the planting season, which would deepen hunger even further.”

By the end of the meeting this week, donor nations had pledged more than $2.1 billion in humanitarian aid to address the crisis.

With reporting from The Associated Press

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