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Shooting Stops in West Darfur but Thousands Need Help After Ethnic Clashes

FILE - Sudanese children sit together following violence in Sudan's Darfur region, Feb. 2, 2021.
FILE - Sudanese children sit together following violence in Sudan's Darfur region, Feb. 2, 2021.

Violence in the West Darfur capital of El Geneina has stopped after days of deadly ethnic and tribal clashes, but people who fled their homes urgently need food, water, shelter, and sanitation, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

No shootings have been reported over the past four days, according to a statement released Wednesday night by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), but the fighting displaced thousands of people, many of whom have taken refuge in scores of sites across El Geneina.

The number of people affected by the conflict between Arab and Masalit fighters is still unclear as official assessments have yet to take place. More than 1,800 people fled into neighboring Chad since the recent clashes erupted on April 3, “bringing the total number to 5,000 including those who fled since January,” said the U.N. statement.

Power has been restored to some parts of the town, but the city water supply remains cut off. The price of one barrel of water has jumped from 79 cents to an unprecedented $5.24.

Sanitation continues to be a problem with limited facilities available at gathering sites, raising concerns about disease outbreaks said the U.N. Health facilities are also running out of medicine and supplies.

El Geneina Teaching Hospital Doctor Adam Zachariah calls the situation horrible.

“Calm has returned to the town but the displaced persons are suffering. Hundreds of them are living on the streets because public institutions are already full and when night comes it is a bit cold and yet the majority of them flee with nothing and at the end of the day their security in that open space is not guaranteed,” Dr. Zachariah told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus.

The death toll continues to climb as security personnel patrol affected neighborhoods, according to Zachariah. El Geneina Teaching Hospital confirmed 207 deaths and more than 230 injured people from the clashes. Forty-two of the injured were airlifted to Khartoum for further medical attention.

Dr. Zachariah accused state authorities of not protecting medical workers who respond to health emergencies. He said last weekend, a group of doctors and nurses were brutally attacked by armed men in military uniform as the group returned to their homes at night.

“In case of any emergency anywhere, we are supposed to quickly respond immediately and save the lives of the people, but at the moment this is not the situation; our medical staff are not given any consideration for protection at all,” Zachariah told VOA.

The head of Sudan’s Sovereign Council, General Abdul Fatah Al Burhan, and a delegation of military and intelligence officers, visited El Geneina on Monday.

Al Burhan’s delegation did not visit any of the injured at El Geneina Teaching Hospital or the hundreds of displaced persons sheltering in open spaces around the town, according to Zachariah.

“He visited only the military institutions and he only instructed the military leaders to increase more troops into the state to help in maintaining the security in the area and he tried to console people that such incidents will not happen again, which is just a political statement,” said Zachariah.

A rapid needs assessment is required in order to begin distributing relief aid, said the U.N. Access to safe drinking water and sanitation remains a major problem said the UNOCHA statement. It noted half of the sites where the displaced are gathering are inaccessible and that overcrowding is increasing the risk of disease outbreaks.