With the international community having pledged more than €2 billion in funding for Sudan at a humanitarian conference in Paris on Monday, Norwegian Refugee Council Sudan Advocacy Manager Mathilde Vu breaks down the worsening humanitarian crisis in a country devastated by a year of brutal fighting.

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One year ago on April 15, 2023, the first clashes broke out in Sudan’s capital Khartoum between the country’s regular armed forces led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) under General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo. Since then, the conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and plunged the country into a deep humanitarian crisis. More than 6.7 million people are internally displaced in the country according to the UN, with a further 1.8 million refugees having fled to neighbouring countries such as Egypt and Chad. Much of the country’s infrastructure has been destroyed and the already crisis-hit economy has collapsed. 

With Sudan now on the edge of “the world’s largest hunger crisis”, in the words of World Food Programme Executive Director Cindy McCain, an international conference was organised Monday in Paris in an attempt to respond to the war’s disastrous consequences. 

Sponsored by France, Germany and the European Union (EU), the summit had two objectives: to raise more than a billion euros worth of donations and coordinate the different mediations aimed at bringing the conflict to an end.

“For a year now, the Sudanese have been the victims of a terrible war … that has brought forth nothing but chaos and suffering,” French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné said, adding that the people of Sudan had been “victims of forgetfulness and indifference”. 

“This is why we’re meeting today: to break the silence that surrounds this conflict and mobilise the international community,” he said. 

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Speaking at the end of the conference, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that more than €2 billion in humanitarian aid had been pledged for Sudan. Of that sum, EU member states will contribute more than €900 million, including 110 million pledged by France.

“This support … will make it possible to respond to the most urgent needs in the sectors of food and nutritional security, health, water, sanitation, education and the protection of the most vulnerable,” Macron said.

But even though the promises of aid are substantial, the figure is well below the €3.8 billion of aid that the UN estimates is needed.

“The funds pledged today are desperately needed to save millions of lives; they must be made available immediately,” the Norwegian Refugee Council said in response to the announcement. 

The NGO’s Sudan Advocacy Manager Mathilde Vu, who attended the conference, spoke to FRANCE 24 about the scale of the unfolding humanitarian crisis and its consequences across the Horn of Africa.

FRANCE 24: One year to the day since the beginning of the conflict, what is the scale of the humanitarian crisis happening in Sudan?

Mathilde Vu: Almost 5 million people are today on the brink of famine in Sudan and it’s estimated that 17 million people will experience food insecurity in the weeks to come. The problem is not just that there is not enough to eat but also that prices have become exorbitant due to the economy’s collapse. So today, what the Sudanese people most need – urgently – is food.

Our teams are also starting to see more and more refugees crossing the border into Chad, pushed by the violence and the ongoing fighting, but also by hunger. It’s extremely serious. It means that we’re heading towards a movement of people displaced by hunger.

In addition to the famine, the whole country is in ruins. As we speak, you can still see smoke in the skies of North Darfur, and villages have been burned to ashes by militias. Civilians are killed every day or are victims of violence, executions or ethnic massacres on a massive scale.

Among my colleagues who have been in Darfur – where the greatest number of abuses are being committed – every one of them has lost a family member, sometimes in disgraceful or inhumane conditions. In the area where we’re still working, we’re trying to reopen schools, because there are none left in operation, and to offer psychological help to the children. We’re trying to teach them to manage their anger and their stress, which are immense. They have nightmares every night, they’ll cry if they hear aeroplanes…

On Friday, the Sudanese foreign ministry said it was “outraged” by the organisation of this humanitarian conference in Paris. What is your relationship with the country’s authorities? What obstacles are you encountering in delivering humanitarian aid?

It’s very complicated to get humanitarian aid to Sudan. That’s why we’re hoping to get a strong signal from the organisers of this humanitarian conference.

Humanitarian aid is constantly being blocked by all the belligerents [through means such as bans on accessing certain areas or difficulties in obtaining visas]. The RSF have also pillaged our aid stocks on several occasions. This stops us from getting aid to where it’s most needed, especially to Darfur and the capital Khartoum.

We must not forget either that humanitarian workers have been killed in Sudan and local volunteers have been arrested. All of this flies in the face of international humanitarian law and is unacceptable.

How can we help Sudan and neighbouring countries who are seeing waves of refugees pour in?

The tragedy of Sudan is that it’s a country of asylum that was already hosting a million refugees and it’s been transformed into a war zone. And the people who live there have fled towards countries that are among the poorest, the most vulnerable and the most unstable in the world. That includes Egypt, which is experiencing economic difficulties, but also Chad, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Ethiopia, all extremely fragile states that don’t have the capacity to welcome refugees with dignity. The humanitarian needs therefore don’t stop at Sudan but concern the whole region.

But faced with this situation, the international community has been scattered. There have been several initiatives for Sudan but they have not always been coordinated.

We hope that, in the same vein as this conference in Paris, we’re going to see a real diplomatic push. There are strong signals today that the international community is rallying around Sudan because this conflict is not as polarising as other subjects such as the war in Gaza or Ukraine. So we’re really encouraging the international community to coordinate more not just among the Western countries but also with African and Gulf states to bring the different sides of the conflict together to talk to each other. 

This article has been adapted from the original in French.