Famine and Dire Humanitarian Conditions After Militia Siege on Darfur Residents

Sudanese mother, Madina Yahya, says, “We might eat tonight, but I don’t know if we can tomorrow.” Yahya speaks about life in El Fasher—the main city in northern Darfur region in northwestern Sudan. Until recently, El Fasher was considered a safe haven for war-displaced civilians, to the extent that Yahya and her family fled their village here, assured of finding food and safety. But now, with El Fasher under siege by Rapid Support Forces, the city and thousands of its other residents are struggling to survive. As the war between Rapid Support Forces and Sudanese Armed Forces persists, El Fasher remains the last major urban center in Darfur region still under Sudanese army control.

The city’s population numbers around 1.5 million, including 800,000 internally displaced people who fled to the city due to ongoing conflict. El Fasher holds significant regional importance as the historic stronghold of armed forces and a strategic trade hub with neighboring Chad and Libya. On Friday, reports emerged of at least 160 people injured amid escalating violence across the city. Médecins Sans Frontières reported on Sunday that at least two children were killed and others injured after a bomb fell near a children’s hospital. The responsible party for the attack remains unclear. With Rapid Support Forces tightening their grip, UN experts express concerns over severe danger to besieged civilians inside the city without a safe exit passage.

A Year of Conflict Since April 2023, Sudan has plunged into a “brutal” conflict between Rapid Support Forces led by Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo “Hemedti” and Sudanese Armed Forces led by Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. Initially allies in the 2019 coup that ousted former President Omar al-Bashir, the generals’ disagreements over security reforms and forming a new transitional government eventually escalated into a deadly power struggle. Violence, which began in Sudan’s capital Khartoum, quickly spread to Darfur, North Kordofan, and the White Nile state. According to the United Nations, at least 15,000 people have been killed since the conflict’s onset. However, US Special Envoy to Sudan, Tom Perriello, suggests the death toll could reach 150,000. Access to food, shelter, clean drinking water, and healthcare remains scarce amidst what’s described as one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

Shamo Abkar, from Tawila west of El Fasher, says, “We suffer from food shortages, usually having just one meal a day, which is breakfast.” Intense shelling forced Abkar to flee his village with his children. During their journey on rough roads to evade military checkpoints, one of Abkar’s sons died in a car accident. Abkar himself lost his sight due to lack of medical care.

He states, “I’ve lost many people to the war, and I can’t remember them all. I miss the safety of my home; now I sit under the tree and this tent longing for my house.” Medina Yahya, who arrived in El Fasher with her family six months ago, shares a similar sense of despair, saying, “Our children are the victims of war; we are tired of this situation.” She adds, “In the displaced camp, I immediately felt tension between those in need of help and those providing it,” noting each new group arrival adds pressure on limited resources. Yahya speaks of the treatment of recently arrived displaced people, “They keep referring to us as newcomers as if we’re just trash bins. We’re all displaced, but they continue to discriminate between old and new.”

Expressing concerns about her daughters’ specific needs, Yahya explains, “We have little girls, teenagers, and minors reaching puberty who need things we cannot provide.” In addition to airstrikes, skirmishes, executions, looting, and burning during this conflict, the UN and other human rights groups have documented widespread sexual violence against women and girls. Human Rights Watch stated in a report last August, “Rapid Support Forces and allied militias appear responsible for a staggering number of rapes and other war crimes.”

“No Peace in Sight” Darfur residents say they live in constant fear with few places to go and difficulty accessing aid. International relief organization Oxfam states displaced people are at risk of being caught in a prolonged battle between armed militias. Human rights expert Toby Harward says, “There will be victims from all local communities in Darfur, Arab and African, if warring parties fight for control of El Fasher.” As the battle for El Fasher continues, there is little hope for an imminent ceasefire.

Sudan’s Chief of General Staff, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, said on May 7th, “There will be no negotiations, peace, or ceasefire until this rebellion is defeated.” Despite efforts by Saudi Arabia, the East African bloc of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the African Union, and the United States, all peace negotiation endeavors have so far failed. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than a third of Sudan’s population faces potential famine, with around 8.7 million people displaced from their homes.

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