“It’s war. Run.”

June 20, 2024

On April 15, 2023, fighting broke out between the two main rival factions in Sudan's military plunging the country into a humanitarian crisis.

Photo: UNDP Sudan / Ala Khair

It’s April 15, 2023. The holy month of Ramadan has just started. Nadia found herself huddled with her son and daughter in her apartment in Khartoum. Seeking solace from what seemed to be a storm looming outside, Nadia was preparing suhoor, the pre-fasting meal that Muslims eat before sunrise. 

As rain pattered against the window, Nadia's ears caught a different sound—a commotion, men's voices mingling with the elements. Peering out, she was met with a scene straight from a nightmare; troops clashed with others, turning the neighbourhood into a battleground. Panic surged through her veins as sounds of gunfire replaced raindrops.

Nadia ushered her children to safety, seeking refuge in the bathroom. Communication cut off, followed by the silence of water pipes running dry. Nadia's apartment became a sanctuary of uncertainty. 

"Maybe it's just gangs fighting," Nadia's mind grasped at the fragile hope of denial, seeking solace in the mundane explanations for the chaos engulfing her neighbourhood. “Perhaps it was a small protest turned violent,” a brief flare-up of tensions in a city simmering with unrest.

But deep down, she knew the truth was far graver. As the echoes of gunfire reverberated through the streets, she was forced to confront the truth—this was no ordinary skirmish. It was the beginning of a nightmare.

She opened her apartment door to find her neighbour hastily fleeing her own home, with three words of advice. 

“It’s war. Run.” 

The words cut through the chaos like a knife. Nadia's neighbour's voice, trembling with urgency, left no room for doubt or hesitation. Nadia realized that her world had irrevocably changed.

With her children, Nadia grabbed whatever essentials she could carry, a meagre sum of money, and they ran. 

“I made the gut-wrenching decision to grab my children and flee. My son, 12 years old, and my daughter, eight, her eyes wide with panic and confusion. Her Down Syndrome added an extra layer of vulnerability to our already precarious situation.”

Hours later she stumbled upon a driver, and through tearful pleas begged him to take them as close as possible to her aunt’s house in Gandhar, only to get there and discover that her aunt had fled the neighbourhood hours ago. 

“I cried the whole way.”

In Gandhar, word spread among the displaced of a bus bound for Aswan, Egypt— but the price was steep. Nadia, a single mother with two children to protect, didn’t have the money. 

So, she begged.

The bus driver instructed them to wait until the bus was full, promising to consider their plight once every seat was claimed. As the sun dipped below the horizon, they huddled on the cold ground.

When the bus had filled, the driver granted them passage. They sat on cramped floor.

"We left with the clothes on our backs,” she said.

As the bus made its way out of Sudan, the grim reality of the war-stricken landscape dawned. Bodies littered the streets, grim testimonies of the brutality that had torn apart her homeland. 

“For six long days, we endured the grueling journey, seeking refuge wherever we could find it. We slept in mosques along the way.”

Nadia's story is not unique, but one thread in the vast tapestry of displacement that has gripped Sudan for a year now. More than 10 million people have been uprooted from their homes and are displaced both internally and to neighbouring countries. Millions of women and children face uncertain futures.

The crisis in Sudan is one of the largest internal displacement crises in the world, a sobering reminder of the human toll exacted by conflict and instability. As of April 3, 2024, half a million Sudanese have crossed into Egypt alone, according to government figures.

In Egypt, UNDP is working closely with local partners to deliver basic services and provide cash-for-work programmes. These efforts aim to foster social cohesion, reduce poverty and unemployment, improve social services, and enhance livelihoods and resilience of both refugees and host communities. 

As the international community grapples with the magnitude of Sudan's displacement crisis, Nadia's story serves as a poignant call to action—a call to extend compassion and support to those whose lives have been shattered. Only through concerted efforts to address the root causes of conflict and displacement can we hope to stem the tide of human suffering and pave the way for a future of peace and stability for all.

As the situation continues to deteriorate, millions are at risk of famine with 18 million people facing acute hunger. The latest statement by Principals of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee warns that without immediate action, a catastrophic situation will unfold: Famine will take place in large parts of the country. More people will face displacement, further outbreak of diseases amid an already collapsing health system – and women and girls, who are already impacted the worst, will face further dangers and threats.

Nadia and her children are now living in Cairo, and despite all she has endured, she has not given up hope for a new life for her family. A skilled baker for many years, she dreams of opening a sweets shop and bakery. 

"I just want a safe place to live and to work. For myself and my kids.”