The latest wave of violence in Sudan, in the form of two generals leading the army and para-military forces in a highly destructive, completely avoidable and non-rational clash (which has already involved warplanes dropping bombs and heavy anti-aircraft firing), has quickly led to a large number of deaths and displaced people.
This is happening in a country where nearly one-third of the population (numbering about 15 million people out of 45 million) needs urgent help to protect from hunger and famine, as stated by the World Food Program (WFP), the biggest provider of humanitarian aid in the country which has suspended its program in the wake of the death of 3 of its staff in the new wave of violence in Darfur region.
Earlier in its Hunger Hot Spots report The WFP (along with the FAO) had stated in late 2022 that between June and September 2022 nearly 11.7 million people in Sudan were likely to have been in crisis situation of food insecurity. For any military generals to push their country into a new civil war in such conditions defies all logic and rationality as well as humanitarian considerations. The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres gave voice to the strong feelings of many people when he stated recently that no one has the right to go on fighting when the country is falling apart.
In fact the country fell apart in 2011 with the secession of a significant part containing 75% of the oil deposits of the country to emerge as the new nation of South Sudan. A lot of efforts had gone into this agreement, but violence has continued to rage in both countries during the last decade or so. In terms of the per cent of people who have perished in famine and violence, the numbers may be even worse in South Sudan. The Hunger Hot Spot Report stated in 2022 that 7.7 million people in South Sudan, out of a total population of 11.5 million, or nearly two-thirds, were in a food insecurity crisis while 2.9 million were in an emergency situation. This was the situation in a country which has a lot of oil wealth.
In fact both Sudan and South Sudan are rich in mineral wealth. In ancient times the region saw several flourishing civilizations, but later factors like foreign and colonial rule and the slave trade became major impediments in the progress of the country. Spread of sectarian ideas relating to this added to this and became the cause of several major problems.
Despite this, more recent times have also witnessed periods recorded as those of high growth, significantly due to exploitation of oil wealth. A lot of this was also used to import weapons, and a lot of sending oil and procuring weapons was done with China too. Other major countries’ concerns were also frequently dominated by narrow business and strategic considerations, which frequently involved befriending the more aggressive and dominant forces and fueling conflicts by taking sides and supplying weapons, while the role of an agency working with continuity and commitment for peace was dearly missed.
The region has more than enough resources to feed well all of its people and end other deprivations as well, but the grim reality of recent years has been that of one of the highest percentages of people being affected by hunger and famine, by displacement and human rights violations. One of the worst affected regions is the West Darfur region, where things have deteriorated further in recent days.
A very big question relates now to the already suffering ordinary people affected further by suspended relief supplies and perhaps even the non-functioning of much of health facilities. A spokesman of Doctors without Borders has stated recently that there has been much violence in West Darfur which has also affected camps of displaced people and in the middle of all this the agency had to stop its activities in the region. Several hospitals in the areas of violence are unable to provide their services.
The UN secretary general has called for African led mediation and other efforts to bring peace as early as possible. While this is really needed, more durable efforts for peace will also be needed in a region that has been torn apart so badly by many-sided violence in recent decades. What is needed is not just fire-fighting when violence has erupted, but significant, big efforts with continuity even in normal times to resolve issues, remove suspicions and strengthen the forces of peace at many levels. It is only when forces of peace get such a significant and continuing presence that peace will get a real chance in such regions ravaged so badly by conflict and violence.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, A Day in 2071 and Protecting Earth for Children.