International donors have pledged nearly $1.5bn in aid for the humanitarian crisis in Sudan and the neighbouring countries hosting refugees fleeing the fighting, the United Nations says.
The UN had called on countries in Europe and the Middle East to step up aid efforts in Sudan, where a conflict between rival military factions that erupted in mid-April has forced millions of people from their homes.
Germany and Qatar were among the first nations to pledge tens of millions of dollars at a fundraising conference in Geneva on Monday, which was also attended by representatives from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the African Union and the European Union.
“Donors have announced close to $1.5bn for the humanitarian response to Sudan and the region,” UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths announced at the end of the event.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told the meeting: “The scale and speed of Sudan’s descent into death and destruction is unprecedented.”
“Without strong international support, Sudan could quickly become a locus of lawlessness, radiating insecurity across the region. I appeal to you all today to provide funding to deliver life-saving humanitarian aid and support to people living in the most difficult and dangerous conditions.”
The UN says its emergency aid programme requires $2.57bn in funding, meaning Monday’s pledges have fallen short.
About 24.7 million people – more than half of Sudan’s population – are in need of humanitarian assistance, the UN says. An estimated 2.2 million people have fled their homes to safer areas elsewhere in Sudan or crossed into neighbouring countries.
The conference took place during a 72-hour ceasefire between Sudan’s armed forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which went into effect on Sunday and is supposed to last until Wednesday. It’s the ninth truce since the fighting started and most of them have foundered.
Germany pledged 200 million euros ($218m) of humanitarian assistance to Sudan and the region until 2024, its minister of state at the Federal Foreign Office, Katja Keul, announced.
Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said the Gulf state is pledging $50m.
“There is no military solution to this conflict, only a peaceful resolution. With respect, we call on the parties to stop hostilities immediately, put the aspirations of the Sudanese people at the forefront and address the root causes of the conflict,” Sheikh Mohammed told the gathering.
The United States pledged an additional $171m in funding, said Samantha Power, administrator of the US Agency for International Development. The UN said it is allocating an additional $22m to address priority needs.
Sudan has been rocked by fighting as the regular army and RSF battle for control of the country.
Sudan’s health ministry said more than 3,000 people have been killed in the conflict, which has decimated the country’s fragile infrastructure and sparked ethnic violence in the western region of Darfur.
Guterres’s deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq acknowledged competing crises can take international attention away from a conflict at any time but said the UN remained hopeful that “a lot of the major donors are now stepping up to their own responsibilities to make sure that the bottom doesn’t fall out for the Sudanese people”.
Haq told Al Jazeera that “Sudan has gone through so much suffering over the years, suffering over the breakup of South Sudan, during the crisis in Darfur, that many donors may be hesitant to provide aid again. But the Sudanese people are worth it. They need our help. We’re able to give them the help that they need if we have the right level of funding.”
The worst violence
The conflict has turned the capital, Khartoum, and other urban areas into battlefields. The paramilitary force, commanded by General Mohammed “Hemedti” Hamdan Dagalo, has occupied people’s houses and other civilian property, according to residents and activists.
The army, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, has staged repeated air strikes in densely populated civilian areas.
West Darfur has experienced some of the worst violence with tens of thousands of residents fleeing to neighbouring Chad. Haq noted that while eastern Chad has had a large influx, many of those displaced remain within Sudan.
“The worry is that many more will be coming out into Chad into South Sudan and into Egypt and other places if the crisis worsens. That’s why we need to contain this at this stage before it becomes far too late,” he told Al Jazeera.
Guterres said: “The situation in Darfur and Khartoum is catastrophic. Fighting is raging with people attacked in their homes and on the street.”
The RSF and affiliated Arab militias have repeatedly attacked West Darfur’s capital, el-Geneina, targeting the non-Arab Masalit community, rights groups said.
The province’s former governor, Khamis Abdalla Abkar, a Masalit, was abducted and killed last week after he appeared in a televised interview and accused the Arab militias and the paramilitary force of attacking el-Geneina. The RSF denied responsibility.
The UN chief said he was especially concerned by ethnic violence in Darfur and reports of gender-based and sexual violence.
UN human rights chief Volker Turk said his office had received reports of sexual violence against at least 53 women and girls, saying that 18 to 20 women were raped in a single attack.
Turk also said the RSF had been identified as the perpetrator “in almost all cases” and also named it in relation to lootings, large-scale attacks in West Darfur and disappearances.