Sudan villages burned down by marauding Darfur militias

May 29, 2023
Aid agencies are unable to enter Darfur due to the intense fighting.
Aid agencies are unable to enter Darfur due to the intense fighting.

NAIROBI — Entire villages in Sudan's West Darfur region have been burned to the ground by marauding militias, with aid agencies now warning the region is on the brink of a "humanitarian catastrophe".

Widespread looting and the destruction of vital infrastructure has left many with little to no access to food, clean water, and medicine.

A ceasefire between the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has led to a lull in the violence around the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.

But fighting has continued in Darfur, and as the conflict there enters its seventh week, the region appears to have plunged into chaos.

Those unable to flee the war have been digging ditches around their neighbourhoods and setting up barricades to keep out militia fighters who have been destroying everything in their path.

That is the picture painted by a local journalist in the city of Nyala, a regional capital.

Satellite images obtained by the BBC confirm that a village near Nyala in South Darfur, Abu Adam, has been completely wiped out by fire - the blackened outline visible from space.

Nyala itself has been suffering from sporadic blackouts and speaking with people inside the city is difficult. Communications have mostly been cut off. But a local journalist, Essa Daffallah, managed to get a message through to BBC.

"The RSF stormed the city with dozens of pickup trucks mounted with guns, and a large number of motorbikes," he said, adding that on Friday 19 May "NGO offices and shops were looted".

"The hospital was emptied because it was in the fighting zone, most of the pharmacies were looted. All the residential areas in Nyala have been completely sealed off by barricades and digging ditches, so that the militias can't enter the residential districts."

This region was already struggling to assist hundreds of thousands of people displaced by other conflicts.

A local activist in Nyala said more than 600,000 internally displaced people, who relied entirely on humanitarian assistance, have received no aid for 40 days because of the ongoing fighting.

Once again satellite images tell the tale of attacks on essential lifelines for civilians, like the main market - showing that part of it has been destroyed by fire.

That's a huge loss because Nyala supplies the region and even some neighbouring countries.

People are in dire need of help and aid workers are frantically trying to get access to the region. They have gathered in nearby Chad with plans to cross the border into Darfur as soon as they can.

"We know it is a very high level of risk," says Justine Muzik Piquemal, from the French NGO Solidarités International. "But we need to send humanitarian goods as soon as we can. Because what we are going to find, I think, will be dead bodies everywhere, and no water. No latrines. And no food."

Ms Piquemal has organised 13 tonnes of aid, which she hopes will involve driving a water tank to the city of El Geneina, the capital of Sudan's West Darfur region.

She tells me that lack of fuel there has shut down virtually all the water pumps in a region where temperatures can reach as high as 50C (122F).

Communications with El Geneina have also been very patchy since international humanitarian workers evacuated in mid-April.

But satellite images show how the destruction of the city has advanced: the burnt-out areas are visible from space. They cover all the places where civilian infrastructure once stood, according to Ms Piquemal. — BBC

May 29, 2023
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