Aid Reaches Sudan’s Vulnerable as U.S., Saudi Arabia Urge Extension of Cease-Fire

REUTERS/Orhan Qereman
A Syrian Kurdish girl stands next to belongings after she was evacuated from Sudan, in Kurdish-controlled city of Qamishli, in northern Syria May 22, 2023.

The United States and Saudi Arabia on Sunday urged Sudan’s rival military factions to extend a week-long truce that has allowed humanitarian groups to reach more Sudanese in desperate need of aid and safe shelter.

“While imperfect, an extension nonetheless will facilitate the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian assistance to the Sudanese people,” the two countries said in a joint statement.

The fragile cease-fire ends Monday evening. The past week was one of the quietist since fighting began, and enabled humanitarian organizations to more safely move convoys of emergency aid and set up distribution points, said Aida al-Sayed, the secretary general of the Sudanese Red Crescent, on Friday.

Sporadic fighting, in particular in Khartoum and North Darfur, has continued despite the cease-fire. The latest truce was the seventh agreed to since fighting broke out April 15 between Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who heads the military, and Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who leads the rival Rapid Support Forces.

Hundreds of people have been killed, and the fighting has displaced around 1 million Sudanese and sent some 300,000 others fleeing to neighboring nations. Many people are living in dire conditions without access to health care, water, electricity and safe passage to move around.

Medina Youssef heard that desperately needed bags of corn were distributed Saturday in another part of her neighborhood, Jaden, in Sudan’s capital. But the 43-year-old mother said she has yet to see any of the humanitarian aid that’s trickled in over the past week as part of the truce brokered by Washington and Riyadh.

Youssef is hoping she gets help soon in case the cease-fire is not extended. On Saturday, as some clashes continued, a shell fell and nearly killed her son, she told The Washington Post by phone. “We have nothing,” Youssef said.

Under the blazing sun in Jaden on Saturday, Ismaiel Mohamed, the supervisor of a local Sudanese Red Crescent branch, helped hand out about a sack and a half of corn each to families in need – which is every family there now, he said. The previous day, a convoy sent by the Sudanese Red Crescent for the first time reached Umbada, a city west of the capital, with food sent by the World Food Program. It was one of many aid missions in recent days that helped to move a wide variety of items, including chlorine to treat water and medical supplies, said al-Sayed.

The Red Crescent is present in Darfur but remains unable to send aid into all parts of the region, where ethnic-fueled violence has been among the heaviest, said al-Sayed. If the truce holds, she said, they are ready to get the aid going.

The World Food Program has reached some 180,000 people in the states of North, East and South Darfur but had not been able to reach Central Darfur because of heavy violence, Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesperson for U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, said Friday. Since the U.N. agency restarted work in Sudan on May 9, it has provided more than 600,000 people with food and nutritional support, Dujarric said.

The tenuousness of the truce, however, has made it hard for organizations to plan for what’s next.

“Humanitarian operations in many parts of the country may grind to a halt,” Doctors Without Borders warned in a statement Friday. “Looting and attacks on healthcare facilities and warehouses have reduced our stock significantly. … We call on parties of the conflict to ensure humanitarian access and to allow us to assist the Sudanese people.”

The latest truce enacted a cross-party committee to monitor violations. On Wednesday, the group said there were “significant breaches” of the agreement, including the “use of artillery and military aircraft and drones, credible reports of airstrikes, sustained fighting” in Khartoum and Darfur.

After conditions calmed Thursday, “urgently needed medical supplies” reached several parts of Sudan, the committee said in a statement, and efforts were renewed to restore some telecommunication services.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned last week that “if the cease-fire is violated, we’ll know and we will hold violators accountable through sanctions and other means.”

In the meantime, Youssef said Sunday that she cannot find basics such as oil, flour and sugar in any stores. Any food or medical supplies still available, she said, cost at least double the price they were before fighting began. Despite the ongoing violence, her family cannot afford the rising cost of transportation to leave.