Global perspective Human stories

Sudan: After one year of war will the world act before it's too late?

A Sudanese mother and her children take refuge in a town in Chad across the border from Darfur in Sudan.
© UNICEF/Annadjib Ramadane Maha
A Sudanese mother and her children take refuge in a town in Chad across the border from Darfur in Sudan.

by Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Chief

It is impossible to overstate what is at stake as the international community convenes tomorrow in Paris for a humanitarian conference on Sudan exactly one year after conflict erupted:

Martin Griffiths, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator (file).
UN News/Daniel Johnson

The future of Africa’s third-largest country is being strangled by war.

The survival of millions of children, women and men hangs in the balance as a possible famine and the lean season loom.

The stability of an entire region, already hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees, is under threat.

And the moral integrity of the world at large is being questioned against the backdrop of the atrocities that we failed to stop two decades ago in Darfur.

As I said three months after Sudan’s current conflict broke out, the international community cannot ignore this harsh echo of history. But that is exactly what has happened. Somehow, we have forgotten what should have been unforgettable.

And the consequences of that are unforgivable.

Silence the guns now.

To put it bluntly, our inattention has emboldened the parties to this conflict to flout the basic rules of war. We have seen people gunned down while trying to flee. Children killed. Women raped. Hospitals targeted.

On our watch, two generals have unleashed a conflict that has driven more than 8 million people, mostly women and children, from their homes. It has stoked ethnic violence and disease, and extinguished lives and livelihoods. It has collapsed the pillars of society – healthcare, education, agriculture – and left half the population, some 25 million people, in need of aid.

This is the toll of a year of war. Sudan must not endure another one.

So we must grasp this moment for what it is: a reckoning, and a chance to redouble our efforts to achieve three key objectives.

Let me start with one that is completely within our collective power: a fully funded humanitarian response.

By hosting the International Humanitarian Conference for Sudan and its Neighbours, France, Germany and the European Union have given us a platform for action on this front, and there is no time to lose. Our humanitarian appeal for this year is only 6 per cent funded. Of the $2.7 billion we need to help 15 million of the most vulnerable people in Sudan, we have just over $155 million. The international community can prevent famine from taking hold in Sudan – but only with immediate action. I urge countries to pledge generously, and then deliver.

People return to South Sudan from Sudan.
© WFP/Eulalia Berlanga
People return to South Sudan from Sudan.

A second objective is something that is, admittedly, much more challenging: an immediate cessation of hostilities.

Ramadan has come and gone with no halt to the fighting, despite a flurry of calls by the UN Secretary-General, Security Council and countless other leaders and bodies for a truce during the holy month. Clearly, we need a surge in diplomacy to achieve a ceasefire – and sooner rather than later, a negotiated political solution to the conflict.

We know the latter will not happen overnight. In the meantime, we need those with influence over the parties to this conflict to compel them to abide by the Declaration of Commitments they signed 11 months ago in Jeddah. Both the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces pledged there and then to protect civilians and facilitate the passage of aid, but they have largely failed to follow through.

Which brings me to a third and final objective – something that we should not have to beg for: safe and unfettered humanitarian access. In the past year, more than 20 aid workers have been killed in Sudan, and tens of thousands of tons of supplies looted. The humanitarian community – first and foremost, local organizations and courageous front-line volunteers – are keeping aid operations going, ceasefire or not. But we could do far more if the parties were to commit to sustained humanitarian dialogue to unlock access and unblock deliveries.

A child enrolled at a malnutrition clinic in Port Sudan, with her mother.
© UNICEF/Ahmed Elfatih Mohamdeen
A child enrolled at a malnutrition clinic in Port Sudan, with her mother.

What we need, plain and simple, is to be able to reach people in need, wherever they are, via all possible routes, whether across borders or conflict lines. The vast majority of the nearly 5 million people staring down a possible famine in the months ahead live in parts of Sudan that are the most difficult for us to access: Darfur, Kordofan, Khartoum and Aj Jazirah. Preventing aid from getting there is condemning them to starvation.

After one year of war, there must be a light at the end of this tunnel of darkness and death. 

Their future depends on all of us keeping up the pressure to deliver on these three priorities. To lapse into inattention once again, into forgetting, would send the message that we don’t care.

For the international community, it is time to shoulder our responsibility. The conference in Paris must translate into tangible outcomes: more access for humanitarians, more funding for the response, and more diplomacy for an end to this war.

And for the parties to the conflict and their backers, it is time to face facts. You are making Sudan unlivable. Your pursuit of power and resources is fueling hunger, displacement and disease. Silence the guns now.

After one year of war, there must be a light at the end of this tunnel of darkness and death. Millions of people in Sudan have already lost their homes, their livelihoods and their loved ones. We cannot let them lose hope, too.

This Op-ed initially appeared in Le Monde on 13 April 2024