The challenges facing Sudan

UNDP Sudan acting Resident Representative discusses working in wartime

April 20, 2024

UNDP Sudan has had adapt and customize its programming to match the changing context and political uncertainty.

Photo: UNDP Sudan

UNDP acting Resident Representative, Thair Shraideh says the war in Sudan began without warning on Saturday April 15th, 2023. What started as a normal weekend day, ended with shooting and bombing.

It is a very painful memory. Everybody was expecting this to be resolved within hours, or within a day or two. But after several days, we knew, we knew what it is. We knew a major war was taking place.

And during that time, which lasted for us until we [the UN] managed to evacuate the international staff and their families, it took us more than two weeks to complete the evacuation. We were concerned about the safety of the country, as well as our international and national staff. There were concerns not only about the safety, but about the life support that they are getting in terms of electricity, water and food. Because nobody was really prepared for such a war.

Can you give us a sense of the day-to-day reality of Sudanese families?

It is major displacements they have had to go through. The evacuation was not an easy process and they left behind all or most of their assets and belongings. They were counting on being hosted by extended families or friends, counting on the social solidarity of the Sudanese people.

And of course, the interruption of their entire lives and plans in addition to the concerns about their safety. And a burden on the essential services in those new areas that they are settling in. Sudan was already suffering from developmental deficiencies in terms of adequate basic services, even for the host communities.

Which groups are facing special challenges?

It's definitely women and women-headed households. They were facing challenges of sexual assaults and sexual violence and having the additional burden of providing care for their families.

And some other segments of the society, especially the elderly, were not able to move quickly or easily, along with those who were sick and undergoing medical treatment. It was very difficult for them to move to other safer areas, and that created very difficult decisions for their families.

In terms of programmatic work, what does UNDP usually do in Sudan and how has the work changed?

We work a lot on building the capacity of the government and institutions. However, due to the earlier political conditions, especially after the coup in September 2021, we had to adapt and customize our programmes to match the changing context and political uncertainty. And of course, after the war and the humanitarian crisis context, we aimed to complement the humanitarian response by working towards improving access to basic services like energy, health, water, and livelihoods.

Shifting our human and financial resources towards that goal was not easy.

We had continuous meetings with donors to reprogramme whatever funds we had available and to also invest a lot of our core funding in projects that can improve the basic services, not only for the displaced, but also for the hosting communities-- which is never going to be adequate enough for the volume of such a crisis.

How are you meeting the most the needs of the most vulnerable?

Well, this is where we make continuous assessments and also count on other UN agencies and partners. We try to focus on the ‘hot’ areas where there is a lot of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) being hosted and maybe here it is worth mentioning that 70 percent of the Sudanese who were internally displaced, they went to the other cities of Sudan that they found safe.

And this is where we try to go and see what kind of interventions can be useful in the short and midterm – helping their livelihoods and basic services that will maintain social cohesion.

What are your plans for the immediate and the long-term future?

With the volume of such a crisis, I do not think it is getting enough attention in terms of media or attention from the donors. And this is due to two factors, to it being a fight between internal parties, and that there are also other regional crises that might be getting more attention because of their political nature. I’ve also noticed that the attention of the donors specifically was directed towards the humanitarian crisis in terms of what can be lifesaving in terms of shelter and food and medicine.

What we really want to do is increase the attention on the life sustaining aspect of it all. It’s a very important element that the donors need to pay more attention to in order to provide support to critical infrastructure and services.

The crisis has been expanding this past year and I think we need to have more advocacy about enhancing the resilience and recovery as part of our humanitarian response.

Is there hope?

Definitely there is hope because of the high potential and resilience of the country, especially in the agricultural sector, that was not fully utilized before.

There is a chance for the Sudanese to build on their strengths. There is an opportunity for them to build on renewable energy and cover their shortages of energy through clean solutions, so there is hope that there will be very good developmental paths for the country, if it could have a peaceful era that can allow for it

I think there are lots of opportunities to start things from scratch that will be good for the Sudanese people, because Sudan was vulnerable before the war in lots of areas.

We will be dealing with a majorly qualified diaspora, which existed also before the war and now it has increased, and I think there is potential for many opportunities.

I think the coming phase of Sudan will be around peace building and conflict resolution and democratic transition, where there would be lots of areas for UNDP to play a crucial role. And we can only wish that this phase will come as early as possible, because the longer the war lasts, the higher the suffering and the cost of inaction will be.

What keeps you up at night?

Our staffing, especially the nationals who are worried about their families and their loved ones. Lots of them are working with their families in another area or country. Connectivity is very challenging where they are not even able stay in touch with their families.

But at the same time, we are expecting them to deliver 110 percent.

We are helping Sudan. Whether directly or indirectly, and we need to count on their commitment and dedication. And in spite all of their personal issues, (our staff) are still delivering programmes.

So, it is an adaptation process at the personal and the professional levels, we need to go the extra mile given that we are a developmental agency. compared with other agencies who are humanitarian in nature.