Unprecedented humanitarian crisis after months of conflict

A Sudanese military tank is stationed near a security facility in the city of Nyala, in the Darfur region. File picture: AFP

A Sudanese military tank is stationed near a security facility in the city of Nyala, in the Darfur region. File picture: AFP

Published Aug 6, 2023


Seipati Moloi

More than 100 days.

Three million displaced.

Thousands dead.

Collecting data is a valuable exercise as it helps humanitarian organisations like Doctors Without Borders (MSF) build effective strategies that can help provide the necessary interventions for those requiring humanitarian assistance.

For organisations like ours, we’re confronted with the reality that people aren’t simply data.

They are fathers, mothers, children, grandmothers, uncles, aunts, cousins, friends and colleagues. Perhaps if we look at conflict related data in a way that centres it around humanity, we will understand the far-reaching consequences of the clashes between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) that erupted in Khartoum on April 15.

A system buckling under the weight of overwhelming needs

The health system was fragile before the escalation of violence in April, with health indicators being consistently low and enormous disparities between urban and rural areas and between rich and poor. Access to essential medical services within reach was already a major challenge.

According to Unicef, millions of children under five years have not been able to access essential and lifesaving services in the past years. Before the current escalation, around 78,000 children under the age of five were dying every year from preventable causes such as malaria. Consequently, the coverage of health services for mothers and children was among the lowest in the region. There was a lack of skilled birth attendant, and many women gave birth at home.

Since the escalation of violence, MSF has been providing humanitarian support in 11 states across the country. Working alongside local volunteers, MSF teams are doing their best in difficult circumstances, but more supplies and medical staff are needed to be able to work safely to meet the immense needs. In some places with the heaviest fighting, it can be too dangerous for patients and healthcare staff to try and reach the few facilities that remain operational. People delay seeking healthcare, meaning they arrive at hospitals in a bad condition. Teams continue to adapt and scale up our emergency response in areas where we can access the most acute humanitarian and medical needs in an impartial manner and to the best of their abilities.

In the latest update from the Sudan Doctors’ Trade Union, it was stated that 60 of the 89 main hospitals in Khartoum (67%) are out of service. Only 29 hospitals are fully or partially operational, and they are at risk of closure due to shortages of medical staff, supplies, water, and electricity.

Crossing borders in search of safety

There are millions of displaced people in Sudan and neighbouring countries. As the violence continues, it means that more people are being displaced each day. Sudan hosted large numbers of displaced people before the current conflict. Services were frequently overstretched then, and the situation is even worse now. According to the International Organisation for Migration, most of the people displaced in Sudan have fled from Khartoum state (67%) and Darfur (33%) towards Northern State (16%), River Nile (14%), West Darfur (7%) and White Nile states.

Many camps are overcrowded, and the humanitarian health situation is dire for people.

As more people arrive, there is an urgent need to increase assistance and scale up vaccinations, nutritional support, shelter food, access to clean water and sanitation.

Displaced people have few options to provide for themselves and their families, relying on assistance to get sufficient food. Some have been supported by refugees and relatives living in the camps before the escalation of the conflict.

International humanitarian response is insufficient

Following a military coup in 2021, most international aid to Sudan was frozen. This led to an economic crisis and increased food insecurity. If the conflict continues, it will further tear down an already weak health system, resulting in even more people displaced, injured and an upsurge of humanitarian need.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that food supplies and the availability of cash have been affected by the conflict. Transport networks to resupply depleted stocks in the shops have been disrupted, and there are also limited supplies in the country. Markets in areas less impacted by the conflict are also beginning to feel the effects, as the influx of displaced people is putting pressure on local resources.

Our teams have been working in Sudan since 1979, providing medical aid throughout the civil war that led to the split with South Sudan in 2011 and the decade-long conflict in the Darfur region. Although MSF has its activities, we have not been able to scale up our medical and humanitarian response as much as we would like to provide the medical assistance that is desperately needed.

Sudan was a difficult place to operate in before the current conflict, but now there are even more obstructive bureaucratic and administrative impediments that make it difficult for organisations to respond. At the same time, there has been a shocking amount of looting of medical facilities and premises, hampering the response yet further just when people need it most. Sudanese people need the warring parties, the international community, and international organisations to do more to ensure that humanitarian needs are met.

Seipati Moloi is a Communication Specialist at Doctors Without Borders (MSF) Southern Africa.

The views expressed do not necessarily the views of Independent Media or IOL.