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Conflict in Sudan likely to last, aid orgs already struggling to deliver food

Organizations are struggling to provide assistance to the Sudanese in need of food aid, amounting to one-third of the population. Their presence in South Sudan has exacerbated problems there too. In Sudan itself looting of food products has become a plague. U.S. President Joe Biden paved the way for new Sudan-related sanctions, while Arab League countries’ diplomats will meet in Cairo on Sunday to discuss the ongoing conflict.

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The conflict between the army and the Rapid Support Force (RSF) paramilitaries has forced about 100,000 to flee to neighboring countries, according to the U.N., and has hindered aid deliveries in a country where about one-third of people already relied on humanitarian assistance.

30,000 of them fled to South Sudan, and a World Food Programme official warned there were already 7.4 million people in South Sudan needing food aid, putting increased pressure on the region’s food assistance program.

“This crisis couldn’t come at a worse time. You know, in South Sudan, we are entering the annual lean season and the rainy season when access is difficult,” said Mary-Ellen McGroarty, Country Director of WPF South Sudan.

“We have had to cut our programs because of severe funding constraints and now again we are having to re-prioritize between hungry people, these new arrivals, who are extremely vulnerable,” she said.

In spite of the obstacles, WFP staff try to provide hot meals to new arrivals and check children for nutrition levels.

Food looting

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The pillaging of food stores in Sudan itself has become rampant, including those belonging to the WPF.

“We’ve estimated that close to 17,000 metric tons [of food] have been looted, some in our warehouses, while others on wheels,” said Eddie Rowe, WFP Country Director for Sudan.

This would translate to about 13 or 14 million U.S. dollars – just the cost of the food. Almost every day we are receiving reports of additional looting,” he said, adding that the organization urgently needs to purchase more supplies for Sudan now, or the food stocks will run out in two to three months.

A long war ahead

Biden signed an executive order laying the groundwork for potential sanctions as his intelligence chief warned that the conflict in Sudan is unlikely to end soon.

“The violence taking place in Sudan is a tragedy – and it is a betrayal of the Sudanese people’s clear demand for civilian government and a transition to democracy,” Biden said in a statement.

He said Washington would keep using diplomacy to create a “durable ceasefire”, allow humanitarian access, and assist American citizens who remain in the country.

That may take time, however, as U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines had told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“The fighting in Sudan between the Sudanese armed forces and the Rapid Support Forces is we assess likely to be protracted as both sides believe they can win militarily and have few incentives to come to the negotiating table,” Haines said.

The foes, she continued, both are seeking “external sources of support,” which if forthcoming, “is likely to intensify the conflict and create a greater potential for spillover challenges in the region.”

Arab League

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Arab League’s foreign ministers will meet in Cairo on Sunday. Gamal Roshdy, a spokesman for the Arab League’s secretary general, said that foreign ministers will hold a separate meeting to address the conflict that erupted in Sudan last month.

An emergency meeting addressing the conflict has already taken place on Monday. Egypt had by that time received some 40,000 refugees from Sudan, more than any other country.

The main topic on the agenda was to be Syria as the countries of the region have been seeking to normalize ties with Damascus, which was suspended in 2011 after a bloody crackdown on street protests against Assad that led to a devastating civil war.

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