GENEVA - UN agencies issued a joint warning on Friday that time is running out to prevent starvation in Sudan’s Darfur region due to intensifying clashes around the northern capital of El Fasher, which are hindering efforts to deliver lifesaving aid.

Since fighting erupted last April between rival militaries, Sudan has witnessed shocking levels of violence, plunging the country into a devastating humanitarian and protection crisis.

Close to 25 million people – more than half the population – are estimated to need assistance, with approximately 17.7 million people facing “acute” levels of food insecurity.

The crisis, described as being of “epic proportions” by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), is exacerbated by limited access to vulnerable communities due to ongoing fighting and authorities’ restrictions, particularly in Darfur, while the fighting rages on between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

The latest escalation of violence around El Fasher has halted aid convoys from Chad’s Tine border crossing as authorities in Port Sudan are preventing aid transport via Adre, the only other viable cross-border corridor from Sudan’s western neighbour.


Desperation and dire conditions

Michael Dunford, regional director for Eastern Africa at the UN World Food Programme (WFP), stressed the desperation of civilians caught up in the fighting.

“Our calls for humanitarian access to conflict hotspots in Sudan have never been more critical. WFP urgently requires unrestricted access and security guarantees to deliver assistance to the families struggling for survival amid devastating levels of violence,” he said.

“The situation is dire. People are resorting to consuming grass and peanut shells. If assistance does not reach them soon, we risk witnessing widespread starvation and death in Darfur and across other conflict-affected areas in Sudan,” he warned.

The senior WFP official stressed that humanitarians must be able to use the Adre border crossing and move aid across frontlines from Port Sudan to reach people throughout Darfur.

Children killed, amid ‘unconscionable violence’


Catherine Russell, Executive Director of UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), highlighted the impact of the fighting on children.

At least 43 people, including women and children, have been killed since clashes escalated in North Darfur. Recent attacks on more than a dozen villages have resulted in horrific reports of violence, including sexual violence, and further deaths and injuries among children.

There are concerns that the siege of El Fasher by armed groups and restrictions on movement on key roads out of the city are preventing families from leaving.

“All of these deeply worrying developments are happening at a time when the continuing brutal violence across Sudan is pushing the country toward a conflict-induced famine and a further catastrophic loss of life, especially among children,” Ms. Russell emphasised.

She called on warring sides to de-escalate the situation, allow safe movement of civilians, including the sick and wounded, who want to move to safer areas and ensure protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure.

“Children in Sudan continue to suffer unconscionable violence while their parents and grandparents still bear the scars of previous cycles of violence. We cannot allow it to continue to happen,” the UNICEF head said.

Call to de-escalate tensions

Meanwhile, Ramtane Lamamra, the UN Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Sudan, continued his engagement with the parties in Sudan to de-escalate tensions, a UN spokesperson said.

Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesperson for the UN chief, said that Mr. Lamamra called on the RSF and the Sudanese authorities to refrain from fighting in El Fasher.

“[He] stressed that an attack on the city would likely have devastating consequences for the civilian population,” Mr. Haq said.

He added that since his participation in the Paris conference in April, Mr. Lamamra has travelled to Chad, Ethiopia and Eritrea for discussions with the African Union and regional leaders on the way forward.

People severely traumatised

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, underscored the challenges it has been facing reaching those in need. For the first time since the war started, it reached Omdurman, a major city across the river from the national capital, Khartoum.

The city hosts over 12,000 refugees and more than 54,000 internally displaced persons.

“Displaced families, including Sudanese and refugees who were in Sudan before the war told UNHCR of their struggles to get enough food due to soaring prices, leading to fears of children becoming malnourished,” said agency spokesperson Olga Sarrado Mur.

Ms. Mur said children have no access to schools or places to play and are traumatised by the sound of the fighting. There are inadequate shelters for the displaced, with many living in overcrowded conditions, including abandoned classrooms.

“While two hospitals remain open, there is not enough medicine, especially for those with chronic illnesses. Pregnant women are not able to access prenatal care. People also shared serious concerns for their safety, reporting increasing sexual violence as well as limited legal support,” she said.

“Many are severely traumatised.”

Threat of unexploded ordinance

The fighting has also led to massive numbers of unexploded weapons littering Sudan’s towns and cities. Mohammad Sediq Rashid, Chief of the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) in the country spoke exclusively with UN News on the risk to civilians.