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International Rescue Committee anticipates ‘secondary humanitarian crisis’ in Sudan

Drone footage shows clouds of black smoke over Bahri, also known as Khartoum North, Sudan, in this May 1, 2023 video obtained by REUTERS

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The International Rescue Committee anticipates “a secondary humanitarian crisis” as refugees pour into neighboring countries escaping the escalating conflict in Sudan.

The conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) entered its 24th day on Monday as yet another cease-fire fell by the wayside earlier in the week.

U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told a Senate hearing on Thursday that fighting is “likely to be protracted as both sides believe that they can win militarily and have few incentives to come to the negotiating table.”

Around 45 million people remain in Sudan, facing acute shortages of fuel, food, water and medical access. Multiple ceasefires have quickly dissolved into further violence, making it difficult for international bodies and NGOs to get humanitarian aid into the vast, sprawling country.

The IRC estimated that as of Wednesday, the conflict had displaced around 334,000 people within Sudan itself, while almost 65,000 were estimated to have moved over borders as refugees to neighboring countries.

“These countries are already of course struggling following ongoing conflict, and the failure of six rainy seasons in the Horn of Africa, which has already left many people food insecure or malnourished,” Madiha Raza, IRC senior global communications officer for Africa, told CNBC.

According to the IRC, 30,000 refugees have crossed the border from the Darfur region in western Sudan into Chad since April 15.

A further 15,000 have fled to South Sudan, many of whom are returnees that had previously fled their own country’s conflict south of the border, while several thousand have also crossed into Ethiopia.

DARFUR, Sudan – May 2, 2023: People inspect a destroyed medical storage in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur province, as deadly clashes between rival generals’ forces have entered their third week.

-/AFP via Getty Images

“These countries are refugee hosting communities and countries that need more support from the international community to be able to take and support the refugees that are coming over in the thousands,” Raza added.

The U.N. Refugee Agency has planned for a figure of 800,00 refugees if the conflict continues as expecting. These numbers include those traveling in dire conditions to neighboring Chad, South Sudan and Ethiopia.

“People are coming over traumatized, hungry. It’s extremely hot, and there’s an acute lack of water in those areas. It’s about 50 degrees centigrade (122 Fahrenheit). People are arriving extremely dehydrated and thirsty,” Raza said via videolink from Nairobi, Kenya.

She said a lack of fuel, food and pharmacy equipment has further driven up prices in a country that was already struggling before the escalation of violence.

“People within the country that are trapped inside don’t have the means or the access to get very basic provisions, so absolutely, we were anticipating a secondary humanitarian crisis,” Raza said.

“The longer this goes on, the longer it’s going to take to recover from economic shocks in countries which are susceptible to extreme instability.”

Darfur in the crossfire again

According to the IRC, most of the refugees crossing into Chad are women and children and are from Darfur. The organization is providing mobile health clinics, nutrition, protection and water, with many hospitals in the western region having been attacked or looted.

“People from farther afield are not actually able to cross because they’re getting attacked, killed or injured,” she added.

Darfur has been in the crossfire of conflict since 2003, after non-Arab groups rose-up against the Arab-led government of now-deposed dictator Omar al-Bashir. In response, Bashir sent in brutal Arab militias, known as the “Janjaweed.”

The Rapid Support Forces, led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as “Hemedti,” emerged from the Janjaweed militia, and various Arab groups have seized on the instability created by the conflict in the country’s capital Khartoum to launch violent attacks.

The RSF has been in conflict with the Sudanese Armed Forces, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, since April 15, after a fragile power-sharing agreement between the two military factions broke down.

The two generals had been overseeing a planned transition back to civilian rule following a military coup in October 2021 that ousted civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and dissolved the country’s government.

Sudanese refugees from the Tandelti area who crossed into Chad, in Koufroun, near Echbara, sit near temporary shelters on April 30, 2023 for an aid distribution.

Gueipeur Denis Sassou | Afp | Getty Images

Sudanese trying to escape the country cannot cross into Chad through Darfur because the area is currently held by different armed groups, explained Raza, meaning the movement of people into Chad from Sudan has “slowed down just because people from further afield are not able to make that journey.”

Fighting in Khartoum has also spread to other regions around the city such as Bahri and Omdurman.

Decades of conflict in Sudan has stifled the country’s growth, and pushed over half the population into poverty.

Several bloody civil wars hit Africa’s third-largest country, then overseen by Bashir, who ruled the country for over 30 years.

Both leaders now vying for control of the state’s military capabilities were generals under the Bashir regime, and rose from the ashes of his leadership after a coup unseated Bashir in 2019 following months of protests.

This story originally appeared on CNBC

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