Thousands of people have crossed into South Sudan as they flee ongoing conflict in Sudan. © WFP/Peter Louis - Photo: 2023

UN Humanitarian Aid Subverted by Large-Scale Looting in Sudan

By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, 8 May 2023 (IDN) — As the civil war in Sudan continues into its fourth week—with more than 19 million people facing hunger and severe shortages of food—the country’s fighting forces have been left with only one choice: starve or steal.

Last week the World Food Programme (WFP) reported the looting of about 17,000 metric tonnes of food out of a stockpile of more than 80,000 that the agency had in Sudan in different parts of the country.

The UN said, “most, if not all, United Nations agencies and its humanitarian partners have been impacted by large-scale looting.”

And in a statement released on 8 May, UN Secretary-General António Guterres “strongly condemned” a second round of looting—this time the main WFP compound in Khartoum over the weekend.

The looting included office equipment and laptop computers. But no other details were available.

Guterres described the looting as the latest violation of humanitarian facilities since the start of the crisis.

Responding to question at a news briefing on 8 May, UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq said: “We believe that a lot of different facilities have had their supplies looted.”

“We’re still trying to take an inventory of that. Certainly, we are aware that roughly 17,000 metric tons of food were looted from WFP warehouses, and the monetary value of the looted food amounts to more than $13,000,000 worth”.

“So, that is the least amount—it is probably more than that, but we’ll have to have more evaluations as we get to go to all of our warehouses and see what happened there”.

Asked if the atrocities in Sudan amount to “war crimes,” Haq said: “That is something that would need to be determined. Obviously, we are reporting very serious violations of International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law including, of course, the attacks on civilian facilities, and we want those to stop.”

The WFP has projected that the number of acutely food insecure people in Sudan will increase by between 2 and 2.5 million people—raising the number to a total of 19 million people—in the next three to six months, if the current conflict continues.

Guterres has reiterated the need for parties to protect and respect humanitarian workers and facilities, including hospitals. Civilians and civilian infrastructure must be protected in order to save lives.

Last week, the WFP restarted its operations in Sudan to meet the needs of 384,000 pre-existing refugees, host communities and both pre-existing and newly internally displaced people across Gedaref, Gezira, Kassala and White Nile.

This is the first time WFP will be providing emergency food assistance in Gezira, where freshly displaced families were fleeing the conflict in Khartoum.

The situation in Sudan has been described as “increasingly dire”. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says it has received reports that as of 25 April, 190 children have been killed in the fighting. UNICEF is unable to confirm casualty estimates due to the intensity of the violence.

The states inside Sudan that are expected to see the highest food insecurity in the coming months are West Darfur, West Kordofan, Blue Nile, Red Sea, and North Darfur.

For its part, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and partners have announced that $445 million will be needed to support an estimated outflow of 860,000 refugees and returnees from Sudan in five countries affected by the emergency.

The UNHCR has launched a data portal that will update new numbers daily of refugee and returnee arrivals in neighbouring countries.

The agency urges states to keep their borders open to those fleeing the violence and urges all countries to allow civilians fleeing Sudan non-discriminatory access to their territories and to suspend forced returns to Sudan, including of people who have previously had their asylum claims rejected.

The violent clashes between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which began April 15, have been raging in the capital Khartoum and in other strategic areas throughout the country.

The conflict brings the de-facto leader of Sudan, the SAF’s General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, into direct confrontation with his deputy, the RSF’s General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who is also referred to as “Hemetti.”

But several cease-fires were violated by both warring parties.

The conflict has claimed more than 400 lives, including four from the United Nations family.

According to Guterres, the reports from Khartoum paint a devastating picture: people are trapped indoors, terrified, with dwindling supplies of food, water medicines and fuel, health services are near collapse and several hospitals are being used by armed groups.

Across the country, there have been reports of armed clashes; people have fled their homes in Blue Nile and North Kordofan States and across Darfur, with refugees and returnees having arrived in Chad, Egypt and South Sudan. 

“This power struggle is lighting a fuse that could make an already catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Sahel even worse, setting back development by decades,” he told the Security Council on 25 April.

All parties—General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo “Hemedti”, Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces—must silence the guns, he insisted.

They must put the interests of the people front and centre, respect the ceasefire and establish the permanent cessation of hostilities. This conflict will not and must not be resolved on the battlefield with the bodies of Sudan’s children, women and men, he underscored, emphasizing that the United Nations stands with the Sudanese people.

Volker Perthes, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) reported that a 72-hour ceasefire brokered by the United States on 24 April was still holding in some parts.

However, both the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces have accused each other of ceasefire violations. The situation in Darfur remains volatile and fighting has resumed in some regions, with other areas hosting thousands of internally displaced people.

Nearly 1,200 people—including 744 United Nations staff and diplomatic employees, relocated to Port Sudan.

“Our relocation and evacuation do not mean that the United Nations is abandoning Sudan,” he stressed, adding that the Organization will keep a reduced presence, while ensuring a sustained ceasefire with a monitoring mechanism, a return to political negotiations and the alleviation of human suffering.

Joyce Msuya, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator told the Security Council that the humanitarian crisis is quickly turning into a catastrophe, with more than 400 people killed, more than 3,700 injured and more than 20 hospitals forced to close.

In addition to numerous reports of sexual and gender-based violence, aid workers have been beaten and held at gunpoint as warehouses, offices and vehicles have been attacked, looted or seized.

Yet, despite this extremely dangerous situation, the Organization’s commitment remains resolute, she declared, outlining its efforts towards delivering whenever and wherever possible. 

“What the people of Sudan need—what we need to reach them—is an immediate ceasefire and a lasting solution to the crisis,” she stressed.

Fatima Kyari Mohammed, Permanent Observer for the African Union, speaking on behalf of Moussa Mahamat Faki, Chairperson of the Union, spotlighted its efforts since the descent into violence, which include a statement calling for urgent de-escalation, the high-level meeting on 20 April and the forthcoming meeting of the enlarged Trilateral Mechanism to discuss immediate practical steps.

As no military action can solve this crisis, any political process must be inclusive and Sudanese-owned. Rejecting any foreign interference in an already dangerous crisis, she urged Sudanese parties to not lose sight of the central objective—the formation of a broad-based civilian lead Government to steer the transition to a new democratic dispensation.

Meanwhile, according to the UN, its Country Team (UNCT) in Sudan comprises 18 resident and two non-resident representatives of agencies, funds and programmes whose work encompasses development cooperation, humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping operations.

The collective response of the United Nations to national development priorities is outlined in the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) and is supported by the United Nations Resident Coordinator’s Office (RCO).

UN Humanitarian agencies, programmes and funds work with national and international partners to protect the lives and fundamental wellbeing of civilians affected by conflict and natural disasters.

In addition, there are currently two peacekeeping operations in the country, namely the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) and the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA). [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo: WFP food distributions in the site of Koufroun, East of Chad, to refugees arrived from Sudan. Credit: WFP/Jacques David

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