As I write these words, I am overwhelmed with a sense of profound concern and urgency for the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Sudan.
The past five weeks have witnessed a devastating escalation of violence, leaving behind a trail of suffering and destruction.
The eruption of civil war in Sudan on 15 April 2023, has catapulted the nation into a state of chaos and instability. The clashes between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have caused immeasurable harm to the Sudanese people. The recent wave of fighting in El Geneina, West Darfur, from 12-14 May claimed the lives of at least 280 individuals and forced approximately 30,000 people to seek refuge in Chad. Neighbourhoods have been pillaged, and snipers prevent access to vital healthcare, compounding the dire situation.
Devastating impact and warnings of regional conflict
On 16 May 2023, the International Development Committee of the UK Parliament held an oral evidence session on the humanitarian crisis in Sudan. The Committee heard from a range of witnesses, including representatives from the United Nations, the Red Cross, and non-governmental organisations. Their testimonies painted a harrowing picture of the crisis devastating impact on the people of Sudan.
Millions of individuals have been uprooted from their homes and forced to flee in search of safety and security. A severe shortage of basic necessities such as food, water, and medical supplies further compounds their suffering. Witnesses emphasised the urgent need for intervention, as the crisis has the potential to escalate into a wider regional conflict if left unaddressed.
Neglected response: the UK’s inadequate efforts and reduced UK aid
The UK’s response to the crisis in Sudan has been dishearteningly slow and ineffective. While the evacuation of British nationals has been prioritised, little has been done to address the pressing humanitarian needs faced by the Sudanese. It is disappointing that the British government has not extended immediate safe corridors for Sudanese individuals fleeing the violence, similar to its response to those who fled Ukraine during the Russian invasion.
The UK’s approach to Sudan’s crisis seems to be influenced more by geopolitical and economic interests rather than a genuine commitment to humanitarian assistance. Unfortunately, this has resulted in delayed action and insufficient attention to the gravity of the situation. Furthermore, the lack of coordination among international actors and fragmented approaches have hindered progress and impeded effective resolution.
The Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) programme allocations announced on 30 March 2023, have failed to provide practical or real solutions to alleviating humanitarian crises in conflict areas. The United Kingdom, once a leader in humanitarian action, appears to be stepping away from this path. UK aid to North Africa has been reduced by approximately 24.14% compared to the previous year (2022-2023). Similarly, UK aid for humanitarian affairs and immigration has decreased by about 20.96%.
Urgent measures for UK action
Diplomatic engagement and mediation efforts are paramount. The UK should actively engage with Sudanese government officials, regional stakeholders, civil society groups and local NGOs, and international partners to promote dialogue and facilitate negotiations. By harnessing its diplomatic influence, the UK can encourage all parties to find peaceful and sustainable solutions to the underlying conflicts and address the root causes of the crisis. Forging strategic alliances with influential nations and organisations will bolster the collective effort towards resolving the crisis.
During a trustee meeting with Peace Direct, we heard from a Sudanese organisation, and they passionately emphasised the importance of giving local organisations a platform to have a voice in resolving the crisis. It was quite heartbreaking to hear about the immense challenges they face on a daily basis. Therefore, in addition to the aforementioned diplomatic efforts, it is absolutely crucial that the UK actively supports and amplifies the voices of local organisations. By doing so, the UK can empower these organisations, providing them with the recognition and platform they need to contribute meaningfully to the resolution process. This integration of local perspectives will not only foster more inclusive negotiations but also ensure that the solutions reached are more effective, sustainable, and representative of the diverse needs of the Sudanese people.
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In addition, the UK must swiftly provide increased humanitarian assistance to address immediate needs. This means bolstering support for organisations on the ground that provide vital humanitarian assistance, such as food, water, healthcare, and shelter, particularly in conflict-affected areas. Ensuring access to basic necessities and essential services is crucial to alleviate the dire suffering of the Sudanese people. Furthermore, the UK should explore innovative approaches, such as air drops and mobile clinics, to reach remote areas where vulnerable populations are stranded.
The UK can wield significant influence by advocating for the protection of human rights and the prevention of further atrocities in Sudan. By forcefully condemning human rights abuses and championing initiatives for accountability, the UK can helpcreateg an environment where perpetrators are held responsible, justice is served, and human rights are upheld. This necessitates diplomatic pressure, public statements, and unwavering support for international investigations into human rights violations.
The UK should proactively promote comprehensive long-term development programmes in Sudan. By focusing on sustainable development, education, and economic empowerment, the UK can help foster opportunities for the Sudanese population, reducing their vulnerability to crises and addressing the underlying drivers of instability. This includes strategic investments in infrastructure, vocational training, and job creation to foster economic growth and stability.
Coordinating efforts with international partners is of paramount importance. The UK should collaborate closely with other nations, regional organisations, and the United Nations to ensure a coherent and collaborative response. By synchronising strategies, exchanging best practises, and pooling resources, the international community can adopt a more impactful and unified approach to resolving the crisis in Sudan. Establishing joint funding mechanisms and sharing resources will help address funding gaps and ensure a more equitable distribution of resources.
Lastly, the UK should make substantial investments in peacebuilding and conflict resolution initiatives. Supporting endeavours that promote dialogue, reconciliation, and community engagement can play a pivotal role in building lasting peace and stability in Sudan. This includes extending support to local civil society organisations, peace processes, and efforts to foster social cohesion among diverse ethnic and religious groups. The UK should advocate for the meaningful inclusion of women and marginalised communities in peacebuilding processes, recognising their indispensable perspectives and contributions to sustainable and inclusive peace.