Wednesday, January 31, 2024

United States Institute of Peace


United States Institute of Peace

ADMINISTRATOR SAMANTHA POWER: Thank you so much, Lise [Grande], for that introduction – for all of your service and for using this incredible institution to convene on some really cutting edge issues, and to broaden awareness of what is happening out there in the world, in the negative, but also these forces of light that we have gathered with us today that are putting so much on the line on behalf of their brothers and sisters in Sudan.

Welcome, as well, to Sara Pantuliano from the Overseas Development Institute, who has applied her considerable expertise to supporting the Sudanese people’s dreams of freedom and democracy for more than, I think, two decades now and counting. 

Welcome to Kholood Khair, who for years has been a steadfast champion of the Sudanese people and who has helped represent the views of Sudanese youth in politics using a very unique platform.

You know, just before we start, I would just say that I'm in awe of the individuals that we have gathered here today, and that we'll have a chance to hear from local Sudanese responders who have flown all the way from Sudan to join us. I'm sure it was not an easy journey – nothing in Sudan these days is easy. It was, I'm sure, stressful also in those you leave behind and worry about while you are apart. But, it really matters for us to hear from you directly, and to have your voices injected into deliberations here about how we can all do better, in a sense, you know, learning from your example. So thank you. 

The conflict in Sudan, I think we all know, Lise spoke to this, is [a] human catastrophe, and it is one that is getting worse by the minute. The Sudanese Armed Forces, the Rapid Support Forces, and the country's supporting them, are pushing Sudan toward state collapse. 

Estimates show that 25 million people, more than half of Sudan's total population, are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. And as armed militants commit unspeakable atrocities and war crimes across the country – and the Rapid Support Forces carry out ethnic cleansing again in Darfur – millions of Sudanese civilians are living in terror, fearing for their lives and the lives of their loved ones. 

In the face of all of this staggering need, Sudan continues to present some of the toughest conditions for humanitarian access in the entire world – and that is saying something. Rampant insecurity, ill-disciplined or rapacious forces on both sides, bureaucratic obstructionism – mastered through decades of practice at being obstructionist, using red tape and bureaucracy – all of this and more is preventing aid organizations from operating within large parts of Sudan – forcing some to lay off Sudanese staff or withdraw from the country entirely. 

Global funding for the crisis remains shockingly low – at less than half of estimated needs – even as the humanitarian crisis continues to intensify. Unconscionably – I mean everything I've described is unconscionable – but unconscionably, supplies are actually there, stuck at the border or in the port of Sudan, as permits to move aid into the country continue to be denied. And the fact that a permit could stand in the way of supplies reaching people with life or death, needs and conditions, is horrifying. 

But in the face of these impossible circumstances and taking tremendous personal risk, Sudanese civilians, like the ones we will hear from today, are springing into action to support one another. 

Days after fighting broke out on April 15, hundreds of volunteers organized themselves on Whatsapp and Facebook to deliver aid and support to communities first in Khartoum, and then across the country. Many of them are young people, some barely out of school. But they have spent the last ten months getting life-saving assistance to communities, often to their own friends and neighbors, but communities caught in the crossfire.

And in the month since April 15, they have not wavered in their commitment as well to each other, even as the bombardments continue and arbitrary arrests become more frequent. Even as aid workers and critical supplies remain stuck at the borders. Even as the horrors they are experiencing don't always break through new cycles abroad. 

These volunteers embody the Sudanese spirit of nafeer – the call to band together to support one another in times of disaster and struggle. We have seen the impact of such networks across Sudan for decades. But today, as access to Sudan for humanitarians remains intermittent, they have formed the backbone of the response to Sudan's humanitarian crisis. Indeed, these volunteers are among the few groups able to reach many Sudanese communities in need – especially in Khartoum.

You will again hear directly from a few of these courageous and patriotic individuals in a moment. But to build on Lise's comments, I'd like to highlight some of their work. 

Some volunteers are collecting supplies of food and clean water, preparing hot meals to distribute to people in need. Others are arranging accommodation for displaced communities, or organizing evacuations for those fleeing violence. Still, others are helping families retrieve the bodies of their lost loved ones, arranging burials so that they can properly say goodbye. 

As attacks continue on medical infrastructure, and health workers across Sudan, volunteers are helping meet urgent health needs in their communities. They are procuring medicine, distributing bed nets to prevent malaria, organizing public awareness campaigns to fight the spread of cholera, and providing medical transport services for pregnant mothers or mothers in labor. 

These volunteers are of course critical to helping Sudan survive this immediate crisis and the immediate terror. But, these individuals, these networks, are also the key to building a better future for the country. The response networks that they run are decentralized, with little hierarchy and largely horizontal leadership. They are wide-ranging and localized with direct access to communities that can help them identify and respond to the needs of the most marginalized. They model the kind of governance – democratic, equitable, people-centered – that Sudanese communities have long craved.

But they also face tremendous risks – risks from outbreaks of fighting, risks from raids or bombs, or from armed groups directly targeting them or their families. To reduce the risk of being bombed, in fact, some organizations have created no permanent office and have no permanent location. They just have to move around and stay ahead of those who would come after them. 

And nearly ten months after the start of the conflict, funding for these local responders remains woefully inadequate. The fact that they're often small and informal means that they are largely passed over by mainstream aid sources – even with our broad prioritization of working directly with local partners, or localization, it took USAID too, far too long, to get aid flowing to these groups and networks. And while diaspora communities have stepped up admirably to send resources directly to these local organizations, that kind of funding cannot match the resources of bilateral development agencies like USAID, or international aid organizations with multi-billion dollar budgets. 

If these relief networks were to collapse, millions of Sudanese civilians would be left with no assistance at all. 

To prevent that from happening, these groups need more resources. The United States remains the largest humanitarian donor for the crisis in Sudan, but we know our funding is nowhere close to meeting urgent needs on the ground. 

We are working hard to commit more funding to these local groups, aided by our partners on the ground – both Sudanese and international. We will continue these efforts – hope to scale them up – and we call on other governments and aid organizations to do the same.

At the same time, we’ve seen first hand the challenges that aid organizations, again, face in disbursing aid to local organizations at the speed and scale this crisis requires – but also with the safeguards we all use to confirm that funding is going to organizations that are trustworthy, operational, and effective. We welcome greater discussion on ways that USAID and other aid organizations can improve our processes so that we can meet the capacity needs of local organizations and communities on the ground.

Together with multilateral organizations and our government partners, we also have to get at why these challenges exist in the first place. In other words, we have to increase pressure on both sides to lift the barriers preventing us from fully responding to the humanitarian crisis in Sudan – barriers like denied visas and permits for staff and supplies, closed roads preventing aid workers from reaching the vulnerable and the affected, and intensifying violence that endangers both civilians and staff. The free flow of aid is essential – as is the ability of both international organizations and the brave Sudanese frontline responders to deliver it. 

It is also, of course, the case that we can't just look at the humanitarian symptoms of a war that shouldn't be happening at all. And that is the most important contribution that the United States and other large, influential actors on the global stage need to be pursuing. Which is, of course, a diplomatic process and a peace process that brings an end to a war that for as long as it happens, is going to bring about terrible suffering – even alongside the incredible bravery and courage of the Sudanese people. 

In marveling at the resilience and courage of civilians, and in seeing civilians step up into leadership roles along the lines of what we're discussing today, we can never take that bravery for granted. 

We have to take inspiration from their leadership, and exercise leadership ourselves. 

It can be easy, when faced with news of atrocities, and closed borders, and obstructionism to feel paralyzed – like nothing will truly fix the situation or like a political deal is miles off. But today, really here and now, we can all do something that does make a difference. We can adopt the spirit of nafeer ourselves, and band together to support the Sudanese people in their time of need. 

Thank you so much. And thank you again for the work that you are doing and that of your colleagues. 

Share This Page