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Hope on the horizon: Returning to Sudan

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Back in 2012, the last members of our Sudan team closed our base in Khartoum. It was the end of 12 years in the country, during which we provided support to families affected by decades of conflict.

In the way that so often happens when we close a country program, our hearts remained in Sudan long after we left.

The Return to Sudan

In February 2020 we were reunited. After eight years away, we reopened our country programme in Sudan to support communities affected by the climate emergency and feeling the lingering effects of conflict. The humanitarian needs were very high: Rising food prices, poor health infrastructure, and limited access to water and sanitation infrastructure were contributing to increasing malnutrition rates.[1] Basic items such as fuel and bread were alarmingly scarce, while inflation rates meant that families struggled to make ends meet.[2] And, of course, there was also the pandemic.

[1] OCHA Africa Under Water: Heightened Mega Crisis 25 September 2020

[2] Sudan Humanitarian Response Plan (page 12) 12 January 2020

Our very first project was providing a health clinic in an informal settlement on the outskirts of Khartoum with handwashing stations and personal protective equipment to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We provided hygiene items and prevention messaging to members of the surrounding community. 'The community is talking about what we are here doing and people are coming to find us wherever we are sharing messages,' said Nasraldeen, a community health promoter. 'They are eager to learn about is, how to prevent it and keep their families safe.'

Things were going well. And then came the Tigray Crisis.

Tigray refugees who fled the conflict in the Ethiopia's Tigray arrive on the banks of the Tekeze River on the Sudan-Ethiopia border, in Hamdayet, eastern Sudan, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty) We recently returned to Sudan after eight years. We're focusing on providing support to families feeling the effects of COVID19, the climate emergency, conflict, and the escalating crisis in neighbouring Ethiopia

Responding to Tigray

In November 2020, fighting between federal and regional forces in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia began forcing thousands of families from their homes. Seeking safety, more than 52,000 people have fled across the border to Sudan, some on foot, others in the back of tractors, or on boats across the river separating Ethiopia and Sudan.[3] They crossed into Sudan at border crossings accessible only by sand tracks or unpaved roads, areas that will almost certainly become inaccessible in the rainy season.

These families have fled with little more than the clothes on their back. While local organisations gathered items like blankets and mattresses from members of nearby communities, they quickly ran out amidst the influx of refugees. There is an urgent need for safe drinking water, health care, shelter, and essential items like blankets and mattresses. [4] Almost half of those who have crossed into Sudan are children.[5]

Responding to a crisis like this is well within our remit. We have extensive experience in providing rapid, appropriate, and compassionate support to families affected by conflict, having done so previously in places like Iraq, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Bangladesh. We have health and safe water and hygiene experts in Sudan. As soon as we have access to the populations affected by the crisis, we will respond. This is what we do best.

[3] Sudan Situation Report. OCHA, 3 December 2020.

[4] Inter-Agency Rapid Needs Assessment. 18 November 2020.

[5] Ethiopia Situation -- Daily News Arrivals Update. UNHCR, 30 November 2020.

Hope is on the Horizon

Backed by our experience in responding to conflict is our incredible team of international and national staff, some of whom have worked for Medair in the past and were eager to join us yet again.

We have encountered challenges and limitations of starting a country program amid COVID-19 lockdowns, but it has proven one thing: commitment. We are committed to serving those in the greatest need, to continuing to work amidst an unprecedented pandemic despite the enormous challenges we face, and to serving thousands of people who have felt the overwhelming effects of conflict.

We are in the right place to respond. Despite the challenges that Sudan currently faces, this country has welcomed thousands of refugees and is positioned with potential at the forefront of positive change. That change can lead to a better tomorrow for generations to come. Though there are significant needs throughout Sudan, at this point in history, Sudan has significant potential for recovery, rehabilitation, and ultimately, for peace.

Hope is on the horizon. We will stand and play our part.

Medair services in Sudan are funded by generous private donors.

This content was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and headquarters staff. The views expressed herein are those solely of Medair and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any other organisation.