The latest on the deadly Sudan conflict
SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:
The U.S. State Department says another U.S.-organized convoy of U.S. citizens and others trying to leave the violence in Sudan has arrived in Port Sudan today. And earlier today, a U.S. official told NPR that it's possible another convoy will depart the country's capital, Khartoum, on Monday. For weeks, the North African nation has witnessed intense fighting between the Sudanese army and a paramilitary group known as Rapid Support Forces, leaving at least 500 people dead and thousands more injured, according to Sudan's health ministry. The situation is dire, despite a delicate cease-fire that's been in place as civilians evacuate.
To get a sense of what life is like on the ground in Sudan and what aid efforts are currently underway, we called Ahmed Omer. He is with the Norwegian Refugee Council, which is among the groups still providing assistance in Sudan. He spoke to us from a city a few hours outside of Khartoum and which has witnessed the arrival of people fleeing the violence. When we spoke, he told us that the conflict is unlike anything he's seen before, and he worries for his family, many of whom live in the conflict zone.
AHMED OMER: My family is stuck there in Khartoum North, where they don't have drinking water for about two weeks - for the last two weeks because a water station was hit in the early days of the violence. They are there without water. Sometimes my brother gets to get out and bring some water from a well. There is a well. It's very rare, by the way, to find a well - a well of water, you know? - in a hospital. So they bring some water from there from time to time, and, yes, it's enough for them to drink, maybe, but what about other things you do with water? So lives there - yeah, they are surviving, but it's not - what can I say? - humanitarian.
MCCAMMON: You must be very worried about them.
OMER: I am very worried. There were a lot of wars here in Sudan. Sudan is full of conflict and war. But seeing it in Khartoum is really different 'cause Khartoum is a really big city. You know, Khartoum holds, like, 8 million residents. In a country that has 45 million residents, 8 million of them is in the city of Khartoum. And some of people even come and go because the neighboring villages, you know? So you can say 10 million.
MCCAMMON: What is your situation there? I mean, do you have refugee camps set up? Are there places for people to stay?
OMER: For Madani, there are gathering sites. The fleeing people who fled Khartoum - it was a very huge number. We don't know exactly the number. It's very huge, but we are talking about thousands of people. They were sheltered in - or they're sheltered right now in schools and students' hostels - you know, public facilities right now. And most of these gathering sites - we counted about 18 gathering sites. These 18 gathering sites, most of them - like 70% of them, you can say - are served by the local community.
MCCAMMON: They're providing the resources that people need to get by in the short term?
OMER: Yes, local volunteers are preparing the food. They're preparing, you know, everything. They bring some medicines. You know, just volunteers of the city of Wad Madani. This is not sustainable. This is not stay for long because the city itself is in a crisis right now - in economical crisis, market crisis, fuel crisis. There is no fuel in Wad Madani. If you find fuel there, you will find it in black market at around 50,000 Sudanese pounds. And this is around, like - you're talking about $85 for a gallon.
MCCAMMON: So this is putting a strain even on communities that are not near the violence.
OMER: Most of the bottled things, you know, these canned items comes from Khartoum, and now Khartoum is in a war. So a lot of items are disappearing. A lot of items are skyrocketing in prices, and it's chaotic there. They have new arrivals the whole day. The whole day, there are new arrivals coming from Khartoum, so it's really concerning.
MCCAMMON: Ahmed, what kinds of stories are you hearing from people who are coming there, who are fleeing Khartoum?
OMER: I hear a lot of stories, but maybe some of the things that I still remember - when they say I don't know what to do or I don't know about my future. I don't know what to do. I don't know where I will go. These things are really heartbreaking for me from the stories I hear there in Wad Madani. 'Cause normally, as a human being, when you get something bad happens in your life, you know what we will do after it. But they don't know. They are shocked 'cause their life is changed just suddenly in the most catastrophic way.
MCCAMMON: How are they getting there? I mean, who is actually able to get there and who is not?
OMER: Some people are not able to leave. For example, my family. My family there, actually, most of it - like, they're scared to - scared from the road because the road is very dangerous. We hear that most of the people who got killed in this conflict are killed during their road to survival.
MCCAMMON: What's at stake if this fighting continues? There's a cease-fire right now, right as we're talking. But if it doesn't hold, what's at stake?
OMER: It always doesn't hold. Since, you know, it's like the fifth cease-fire. But I do urge the two parties to hold at least this cease-fire or - you know, any three days of these cease-fires are needed 'cause Khartoum, here - people who have no water for two weeks. They really need, like, one day so they can get some engineers and take them to the station - the water station and fix it. So we really need every day. I hope they stop fighting. I hope they do bigger truces, like, one week, two weeks truce. I hope they negotiate. I hope this all stops. It has to stop. It has to stop because people need access to basic things like food, drinking water, fuel, hospitals, medicines.
There are people who are caught there who has asthma and they need their asthma inhaler. There are people who are caught there who are - who have diabetes, and they need their medicines. This is, like, the things about war. Maybe people don't see that. People are blind about the small things about the war, that there is an area that haven't seen water since two weeks. There is someone who has an asthma attack, and he doesn't have his inhaler. These small stories are the real war.
MCCAMMON: That's Ahmed Omer with the Norwegian Refugee Council joining us from outside the Sudanese capital. Stay safe and we wish you and your family all the best.
OMER: Thank you, Sarah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.