Hunger, disease and displacement threaten to destroy Sudan as war spreads throughout the country, fueling “a humanitarian emergency of epic proportions,” according to Martin Griffiths, U.N. emergency relief coordinator.
“The longer this fighting continues, the more devastating its impact is going to be,” Griffiths warned in a statement issued Friday.
He said the conflict, which has ravaged the capital, Khartoum, and Darfur since April 15, has spread to Kordofan. Food stocks in South Kordofan’s capital, Kadugli, he said, “have been fully depleted, and clashes and road blockages prevent aid workers from reaching the hungry.”
The U.N. humanitarian chief expressed concern about the safety of civilians in Al Jazirah province, the breadbasket of Sudan, as the conflict moved closer to that area.
“Hundreds of thousands of children are already severely malnourished and at imminent risk of death if left untreated,” he said. “Millions more will have their education replaced by the devastating traumas of war, becoming a lost generation.”
Since violence erupted in a power grab between the Sudanese Armed Forces and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces in mid-April, the U.N. refugee agency says more than 3.6 million people have been displaced inside Sudan and nearly 1 million have fled across the border as refugees.
Griffiths warned that many impoverished host communities are struggling, and that “a protracted conflict in Sudan could tip the entire region into a humanitarian catastrophe.”
The World Health Organization has verified that 53 health facilities have been attacked during more than four months of conflict, resulting in 11 deaths and 38 injuries. It said 67% of all main hospitals are out of service, and hospitals that remain fully or partially functional risk closing for lack of medical staff, supplies, water and electricity.
“Services have been discontinued in many areas, including maternal and child health, management of severe acute malnutrition and treatment of patients with noncommunicable diseases,” said Tarik Jasarevic, WHO spokesperson.
He said the onset of the rainy season will increase the risk of outbreaks of water-borne and vector-borne diseases. “There are reports of dengue, measles, acute watery diarrhea, but also cases of severe acute malnutrition” from different states, he said.
Of the 11 million people in need of humanitarian health services, the WHO said, approximately 272,000 are currently pregnant, 30,000 of whom will deliver next month.
“It is expected that 6,000 newborns and 4,500 currently pregnant women may experience some complications,” said Jasarevic. “There is no access to emergency care for newborns and pregnant women, which risks losing more lives.”
UNICEF reported the conflict has uprooted at least 2 million children from their homes, with nearly 14 million in urgent need of humanitarian support. It said many children face multiple threats, including acute hunger, malnutrition, lack of clean water and killer diseases.
James Elder, UNICEF spokesperson, said another threat is that of child recruitment. “We know of strong anecdotes coming from partners of children being compelled to become instruments of war — to kill and, no doubt, to be killed. To be forced to be this violent expression of hatred among adults,” he said.
“That is happening. And, unfortunately, it is yet another sign of [the] lack of respect of children and international law in this conflict,” he said.
Shortly after the war broke out, the rival warlords signed a Declaration of Commitment “to abide by international humanitarian law.” While the opposition forces agreed to several short-lived truces, all attempts to mediate an end to the war have failed. Diplomats say both sides assert that they can win.
“Of course, pressure can be brought to bear on these parties,” said Jens Laerke, deputy spokesperson for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. “I think the U.N. is constantly calling on member states and everybody with influence on them to try to convince them that a truce to a cease-fire would be a good idea.”
He said that does not take away from the day-to-day operations in the field, “where humanitarians indeed do manage to negotiate on a very localized basis with localized commanders access to people in need.”
While this is not at a scale where it should be, he said that it is possible. “So, of course, we do not throw our hands in the air and say we cannot do anything here, so let us go home.
“We stay. We try to deliver as much as we can, whenever we can,” he said.