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UN Aid Chief: Sudan's Rival Military Leaders Must Back Delivery of Humanitarian Relief

Martin Griffiths, United Nations undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, gives a briefing to media in Port Sudan, Sudan, May 3, 2023.
Martin Griffiths, United Nations undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, gives a briefing to media in Port Sudan, Sudan, May 3, 2023.

A top United Nations official is calling on Sudan's rival military leaders to publicly commit themselves to the safe delivery of humanitarian assistance to millions of people struggling to survive amid escalating fighting.

At the end of a three-day troubleshooting visit to the region, Martin Griffiths, the U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, said the Sudanese people face a humanitarian catastrophe.

Speaking by video link from Port Sudan, Griffiths said it was essential that the leaders of the two warring factions publicly back the efforts of humanitarian agencies to provide relief to those in need.

He said he was already working on a plan to get supplies where they are needed and that he sought "to be sure that we have the commitments publicly and clearly given by the two militaries to protect humanitarian assistance."

Griffiths said it was important for them "to deliver on the obligations to allow supplies for people to move, and that we should do that … even when there is no formal natural cease-fire."

Griffiths said he and Volker Perthes, U.N. special representative for Sudan, spoke Wednesday with Sudanese Armed Forces leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, commander of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.

In their talks, he said they stressed the need for humanitarian aid to reach the people. But for that to happen, Griffiths said he told the generals that strong guarantees on the safety of aid workers and supplies had to be backed up with agreements from the top.

"It seems to me that getting those commitments is a condition precedent for large-scale humanitarian action," Griffiths said. "And I say large-scale because humanitarian action is continuing day by day by day, and it has been a mistake to suggest that it stopped."

Griffiths said the U.N. was hampered in its ability to provide for the Sudanese people because of severe funding shortages. He said only $200 million of the U.N.'s $1.7 billion appeal for Sudan, which was launched before this crisis, has been received.

He said money is needed to get assistance to the different parts of Darfur and to hardest-hit urban areas, especially Khartoum.

Besides money, Griffiths said, "We need access, we need airlift, we need supplies that do not get looted.

"The World Food Program today told me six trucks of theirs which were going to Darfur were looted, despite assurances of safety and security."

He reiterated, "We need to be very, very clear about commitments made to ensure the safety of moving the supplies from Port Sudan, or indeed from Chad to Darfur to Port Sudan and westwards to places of need."

Griffiths said medicines, food, clean water, fuel and other critical commodities are desperately needed.

He said the Food and Agriculture Organization and WFP told him Wednesday about "the importance of getting the food and seeds into places which are going to be hard to reach because of the rainy season that is coming in June," and corresponds with the planting season.

Since fighting between the two warring factions began more than three weeks ago, at least 334,000 people have been displaced inside Sudan, and more than 100,000 have fled to neighboring countries in search of assistance and protection.

Sudan's Federal Ministry of Health reports some 528 people have been killed and 4,620 injured, although U.N. agencies say they believe the toll to be much higher.