SEATTLE, Washington — According to a report released by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), the need for humanitarian aid in Sudan has increased from 5.8 million people to 13.4 million within the past five years. Economic and political crises have pushed millions of vulnerable populations into poverty. Nearly 25% of the population in Sudan lives in extreme poverty. Additionally, the Human Development Index ranked Sudan 167 out of 189 countries and territories. Indisputably, there is work to be done in Sudan. With a recent shift in government and more organizations coming together to build up this developing nation, hope for positive change returns to the country every day.
Sudan’s Return to Democracy
Prior to the Sudanese Revolution in 2019 and the subsequent transition to a democratic state, it was nearly impossible to import humanitarian aid into the country. The country had been ruled by a dictatorship, and the southern regions of Sudan were engulfed in conflict for several decades, affecting nearly one million people. The civil war in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile has been recorded as one of the longest and deadliest civil wars on record.
Rebel-held areas were extremely precarious and the government banned international humanitarian aid workers from traveling to the region. As a result, the country experienced human rights abuses, mass internal displacements and overall deteriorating living standards. When Sudan’s severe economic challenges culminated in 2018, widespread protests and civil unrest led to a coup d’état by the Sudanese military — ousting Omar al-Bashir, the president of Sudan. In an alliance with the Forces of Freedom and Change, the Transitional Military Council replaced Bashir. It agreed upon a 39-month transition process to return to a democratic state.
The Première Urgence Internationale?
Première Urgence Internationale is one of the 60+ organizations providing humanitarian assistance in Sudan. In 2011, two non-governmental organizations, Première Urgence and Aide Médicale Internationale merged to create Première Urgence Internationale. This move brought together more than 40 years of humanitarian work experience in more than 30 countries. Headquartered in France, it is funded by the European Union, USAID, UN Agencies and France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as by private and other institutional donors. Première Urgence Internationale is a “non-profit, non-political, non-religious, international NGO.”
Première Urgence Internationale conducts around 200 projects per year. Its efforts span 23 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. Primarily, the organization provides emergency aid to marginalized civilians and those who have been affected by natural disasters, wars and economic collapse. It addresses issues ranging from health, nutrition and food security to economic recovery, access to water, sanitation and education. Furthermore, it states that its goal is to “help populations affected by humanitarian crises by providing them with the skills to take their future back into their own hands.”
The Sudan Mission
Première Urgence Internationale first began its work in Darfur in Sudan in 2004. Like many other organizations, it had to leave the country in 2009. After the regime change and with increased humanitarian access, Première Urgence Internationale conducted assessments in February 2020. Mirko Zappacosta has been the head of Première Urgence Internationale’s Sudan mission since September 2020.
When speaking about the progress that the country has made, Mirko expresses his gratitude: “We feel privileged… it’s an honor to be here as the country goes through an historical, although fragile transition.” Working jointly with the non-governmental organization Triangle Génération Humanitaire, with support from the French Crisis and Support Center funding, the project aims to improve access to health, nutrition, water, sanitation and education. It also supports existing healthcare facilities in extremely remote areas of South Kordofan. When Mirko and the Première Urgence Internationale team first arrived in South Kordofan in October 2020, they immediately recognized the dire conditions in the region. Conducting an initial assessment of the health facilities, they noted the urgent need for even the most basic necessities. These included essential medicines, equipment, water and electricity.
The Organization Today
Today, Première Urgence Internationale is currently supporting three healthcare facilities in the region. It accomplishes this by providing training and incentives to the health staff, maintaining a supply of medicines and bringing equipment into the area. With a high maternal mortality rate (295 deaths per 100,000 births), many Sudanese mothers are also unable to provide the necessary nourishment for their own babies while breastfeeding. The lack of access to safe drinking water provides an insufficient base for baby formula. In 2021, Première Urgence Internationale plans to expand its activities to support child and maternal health in South Kordofan. Food insecurity and malnourishment are still rampant throughout the country. The prices of key commodities such as bread have been severely inflated.
Première Urgence Internationale supports a network of community health volunteers, conducting health awareness, including prevention of and sensitization for COVID-19, and screenings to check for malnourishment among children younger than 5 years old. After, volunteers will refer patients to specific facilities to provide them with nutritious foods and treatment. “We assure these children are provided the care that they need and that children suffering from severe acute malnutrition with complications get transferred to the hospital to receive proper care,” says Zappacosta.
In the last quarter of 2020, more than 60,000 Ethiopian refugees have fled to Sudan. They fled to escape pervasive violence in their own country. The region requires more comprehensive action to stabilize it. Première Urgence Internationale conducted rapid needs assessments in and around refugee camps. Today, Première Urgence Internationale will deploy assistance to these vulnerable populations. It will support health and nutrition facilities in the vicinity of refugee camps, benefiting both refugees and the local population.
A Drop in the Ocean
Mirko acknowledges that, while there is improvement in the humanitarian landscape in Sudan, Première Urgence Internationale is “just a drop in the ocean because the need is incredible.” In 2020, humanitarian aid reached nearly 8.8 million people in Sudan. However, even with all the indispensable efforts of organizations like Première Urgence Internationale, Sudan is still experiencing a shortage of humanitarian aid. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated Sudan’s economic crisis, and it continues to have direct negative consequences throughout its society.
Unfortunately, the increased need for humanitarian aid continues to exceed the available assistance. Organizations like Première Urgence Internationale require greater funding to deliver this assistance to the most vulnerable. Nevertheless, the progress made within the government and continuous humanitarian action demonstrates that there is a positive future for the people of Sudan. People like Mirko and those involved with the organization are inspired by the extreme resilience and determination of the Sudanese people. They aim to contribute to the Sudanese hope for a better future.
“The first humanitarian principle of organizations like Première Urgence Internationale is humanity…meaning we are all part of one human family. When we all start to look beyond our neighborhood, beyond our nations, beyond our continents and we can have solidarity with other nations, that is how we move forward.” This principle of humanity is evident throughout Première Urgence Internationale’s missions. Their endeavors in Sudan constitute just a drop in the ocean of their international work.
– Alessandra Parker