More than 40,000 refugees have entered Sudan since the conflict began on November 4 between the federal government of Ethiopia and the breakaway region of Tigray, neighboring Sudan.
Those who fled the fighting have settled in unsanitary camps across the border in eastern Sudan, where they lack food and access to water and sanitation.
“The number (of refugees) is well above our (hosting) capacities and an increase will put additional pressure, not only on our federal state but on all of Sudan.“, Soliman Ali, governor of the state of Gedaref, told AFP.
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“Since the start of the crisis, the response of NGOs has been weak and certainly not up to the current crisis“, he said. And the conflict shows no sign of abating.
On Sunday, the Ethiopian army warned of a general attack on Mekele, capital of Tigray, urging civilians to flee.
“A larger influx will have very dangerous economic repercussions for Sudan“, believes Sudanese economist Mohamed el-Nayer.
Because Sudan is one of the poorest countries in the world and one that already has more than a million refugees on its soil.
– “Poorest region” –
This Ethiopian crisis comes as Sudan is going through a fragile transition since the ousting in April 2019 of autocrat Omar al-Bashir, following mass protests against his regime.
The authorities seek to rebuild the country’s economy, decimated by decades of US sanctions, mismanagement and armed conflict under Bashir.
Some 65% of Sudan’s approximately 42 million people live below the poverty line, according to government figures.
The economy has also been hit hard this year by catastrophic flooding across much of the country and is also crippled by the novel coronavirus epidemic.
Inflation exceeds 200%, and the country suffers from a chronic shortage of hard currency which results in long queues for the purchase of basic foods like bread, fuel. Power cuts last at least six hours a day.
The acuteness of the economic crisis is particularly felt in the eastern states, Gadaref and Kassala, which have hosted almost all of the refugees.
“Eastern Sudan is the poorest region in the country and the influx of people will lead to increased competition for resources and aid“said Jonas Horner of the International Crisis Group.
The government will have to “rely heavily on the help of national and international organizations“, he added.
In the border town of Hamdayit, on the outskirts of Kassala, which has hosted more than 28,000 refugees, residents say their influx has been accompanied by price hikes in local markets.
“We are already suffering from shortages of flour, fuel and other basic products, but the current crisis makes it more expensive to acquire these products.“, according to the governor of Gedaref.
– Health situation “terrible” –
In addition to the economic difficulties, there is the health situation in the refugee camps.
Camp doctors say cases of HIV, malaria, tuberculosis and dysentery have already been reported among the refugees. No official figure has yet been announced.
But overcrowding and poor living conditions could make the situation even worse, especially with limited access to hospitals and sanitation facilities.
No case of the coronavirus has been officially identified, but there are still fears that it will spread to camps and neighboring villages.
“The health situation is currently terribleinsiste Soliman Ali.
Like him, others are calling on the international community to play a more important role, especially if the conflict continues.
“We need the help of the international community (…), otherwise the economy of Sudan will collapse“said Mohamed el-Nayer.
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