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Sudan's people are trapped in `inferno of brutal violence' as famine and fighting close in, UN says

UNITED NATIONS — (AP) — The Sudanese people "are trapped in an inferno of brutal violence" with famine, disease and fighting closing in and no end in sight, the top U.N. humanitarian official in the war-ravaged country said Wednesday.

Clementine Nkweta-Salami told a U.N. press conference that “horrific atrocities are being committed with reckless abandon, reports of rape, torture and ethnically motivated violence are streaming in," communities and families have been torn apart, and almost 9 million people have been forced to flee their homes in what is now the world’s largest displacement crisis.

Earlier this month, the U.N. food agency warned Sudan's warring parties that there is a serious risk of widespread starvation and death in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan if they don't allow humanitarian aid into the vast western region – a view echoed Wednesday by Nkweta-Salami.

Sudan plunged into conflict in mid-April 2023, when long-simmering tensions between its military led by Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces commanded by Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, broke out into street battles in the capital, Khartoum. Fighting has spread to other parts of the country, especially urban areas and the vast western Darfur region, and the U.N. says over 14,000 people have been killed and 33,000 injured.

The paramilitary forces, known as the RSF, have gained control of most of Darfur and are besieging the key city of El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur and the only capital they don’t hold.

Nkweta-Salami told a U.N. news conference that hostilities in El Fasher have been escalating and clashes over the weekend and early this week caused dozens of casualties and displaced many more of the 800,000 people still in the city.

She said there are just six weeks before “the lean season” begins, when food becomes less available and more expensive. It also coincides with the rainy season when reaching people is very difficult because water-logged roads become impassable, and the end of the planting season when the U.N. needs to provide seeds to farmers, she said.

The U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Sudan urged “more funding and fast.”

On April 15, donors pledged $2.1 billion in humanitarian aid for Sudan, but Nkweta-Salami said the U.N.'s $2.7 billion humanitarian appeal -- to help nearly 15 million of the country's 58 million people -- is just 12% funded.

"Without more resources, we won't be able to scale up in time to stave off famine and further deprivation," she warned.

Leni Kinzli, the U.N. World Food Program's regional spokesperson, said on May 3 that at least 1.7 million people in Darfur were experiencing emergency levels of hunger in Sudan in December, and the number is expected to be "much higher" now.

“People are resorting to consuming grass and peanut shells,” Kinzli said. “And if assistance doesn’t reach them soon, we risk witnessing widespread starvation and death in Darfur and across other conflict-affected areas in Sudan.”

Nkweta-Salami demanded unfettered access to the millions in need, urging more aid deliveries from Chad which borders Darfur, and across conflict lines.

She said food, water and medicine are desperately needed in El Fasher, which is now completely surrounded. As an example of the difficulties the U.N. and other aid agencies face, she said a U.N. convoy with more than a dozen trucks carrying critical supplies for 120,000 people left Port Sudan on April 3 but still hasn’t reached El Fasher because of insecurity, checkpoints and delays in getting clearances.

Nkweta-Salami urged the parties engaged in fighting in and around El Fasher to step back to prevent what would be “a catastrophic impact on the civilian population.”

“And most of all, we need more engagement to end this war” and to hold the parties to the conflict accountable, she said. “The international community cannot stand by as this crisis spirals out of control – as the noose of this conflict tightens its stranglehold on the civilian population.”

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