­Project Update, June 24, 2023: Responding to Sexual Violence in Darfur 

June 24, 2023

Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen and Eric Reeves, Co-Chairs 

Nancy Reeves, Editor and Funding Advisor; Julie Darcq, Online Campaign Coordinator

Overview (Eric)


In place of the usual monthly update from the coordinating counselor of our project in Zamzam IDP camp (North Darfur), I have provided an Annex that attempts to provide a primer on the rise of Hemedti and his Rapid Support Forces (RSF), with particular emphasis on the vastly under-reported years of 2013 – 2019, when tremendous wealth and power accrued to Hemedti, and—disastrously—international legitimizing of the ruthless genocidaire. An addendum gives a brief overview of the almost total destruction of the capital of West Darfur, El Geneina (a number of telling photographs have been included).

Communication with our project counselors has continued to prove extremely difficult, and as I noted in last month’s update it has been necessary to purchase a small electricity generator to enable the counselors to recharge their phones, often necessary to respond to crises and emergencies. Because both internet services and the telecommunication infrastructure have been so severely degraded, even with charged telephones it has been extremely difficult for Gaffar to communicate in a timely way. Purchase of a European SIM card from an international humanitarian organization has offered a stop-gap measure and allows for use of one telephone for communication, but its capacity is quite limited. 

[1] The violence that began inKhartoum on April 15 has bled more and more into Darfur. Attacks by the RSF and their Janjaweed allies have all but destroyed El Geneina, capital of West Darfur. Serious attacks have also been mounted against Nyala (capital of South Darfur) and El Fasher (capital of North Darfur and the major source of food and medicine for Zamzam IDP camp). Collectively these assaults—along with attacks on the major towns of Kutum and Zalingei—give credence to what a highly informed Sudanese source reports today:

In monitoring the “chatter” of the RSF/Janjaweed on social media,  there is lots of talk about the next step (plan B). The general trend of the chattering is that the RSF/Janjaweed cannot withdraw fromKhartoum without first securing all five states of Darfur and to have them fully in their hands—exactly as has happened to West Darfur (El Geneina). The plan is then to withdraw from Khartoum and negotiate with SAF. 

Zamzam continues to be spared any direct violence and the normal activities of our project to proceed, although I have received from the coordinating counselor not her typical detailed account of the activities, but rather a summary of what has been accomplished in the period May 21 – June 21 (see below).

 Continued work depends on the defense of El Fasher from seizure by the RSF/Janjaweed: the markets and medical facilities (including the facility providing fistula surgeries for girls and women injured in brutal sexual assaults) cannot survive under RSF control. In short, much of the work of Team Zamzam will be imperiled unless the violence is controlled, infrastructure is repaired, markets are restored, and medical facilities can operate without threats.

[II.] Without a secure humanitarian corridor from the east in Sudan, Darfur and all its people face the prospect of massive food shortages and a total lack of medical supplies. Air routes from Port Sudan, where most humanitarian assistance remains unmoved, depend upon decisions about whether cargo planes are safe from ground fire. The Wagner Group has provided the RSF with surface-to-air missiles, and a recent assault on the ICRC in Khartoum has heightened fears about air and ground transport.

Even before the fighting began in April, the threat of famine in parts of Darfur was clear. A very recent report from the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWSNet) offers an authoritative update on what we can expect for food insecurity in the coming months:

The ongoing conflict that erupted on April 15th following the breakdown of security sector reform negotiations between the Chairman of the Transitional SovereigntyCouncil, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the leader of the Rapid Support Forces,Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (widely known as “Hemedti”), has led to a rapid deterioration in food security conditions, particularly in major urban areas and across Greater Darfur. The swift and unanticipated disruption to trade and market functionality, household mobility, humanitarian assistance, and basic service provision, including healthcare, banking, electricity, transport, and communication, has left millions of people facing critical shortages of food, water, and basic supplies, including in dense urban areas and in greater Darfur, which hosts a large share of displaced and acutely food insecure people.

Before the outbreak of conflict, Sudan already faced a high burden of food insecurity given the exceedingly high cost of living amidst the persistence of poor macroeconomic conditions and intercommunal conflict. While the current fighting has not yet spread to rural areas [in fact, the latest intelligence from the a number of regions in Darfur suggests that fighting has spread to some rural areas—ER], the likely ripple effects of trade disruptions and price increases in rural areas – particularly at a time when food stocks are already declining and market dependence is increasing – are expected to further exacerbate food consumption gaps and cause an increase in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes across the country as it heads into the typical lean season period from June toSeptember. Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are likely to increase among populations that are already acutely food insecure and have low coping capacity, rendering them highly vulnerable to the direct and indirect impacts of the ongoing conflict on food security conditions.

Also recently (May 23, 2023), the UN’s Food and AgricultureOrganization offered this equally bleak assessment:

Current food security situation and likely evolution:

The conflict, causing large-scale displacements and livelihood losses, has severely constrained food availability and access and resulted, after less than one month, in the deterioration of an already difficult food security situation. According to the recently released 2023 Revised Humanitarian Response Plan, 19.9 million people are expected to require emergency food and livelihood assistance in theJune-September lean season, if the conflict continues. This figure is 70 percent higher than the pre-conflict estimate of 11.7 million people as reported in the 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan that was released at the end of 2022. The highest prevalence of food insecurity is expected in West Darfur, West Kordofan, Blue Nile, Red Sea and North Darfur States. Unimpeded humanitarian access is urgently needed to support vulnerable households in conflict affected areas and IDPs to avert catastrophic consequences.

The effort by many humanitarian actors will be to engage in a kind of “triage” for humanitarian relief, especially given the massive population of the greater Khartoum urban area. But Darfuri lives are no less valuable, no less prone to the acute suffering of slow starvation, than the lives of the riverine Arab tribal groups that make up most of Khartoum’s population. Our project in Darfur will continue, with what resources we are able to secure or create, and at the very least signal to the people of Darfur that they have not been forgotten…again.

[III.] From the Coordinating Counselor of Project Zamzam

[1] The routine visits to inspect people’s living conditions, security concerns, and health conditions in the camp have continued. Between the first week of May to the third week of the current month, (June 2023), 47 inspection visits were carried out in all four sectors of the camp. During these visits we noticed a continuous deterioration in living conditions and health because of the current war. We also noticed a rise in infant mortality due to malnutrition and spread of fever and several diseases due to lack of sufficient medical treatment and medication.

[2] Counseling sessions. Since the war began on the fifteenth of April, the psychological condition of those who were receiving counseling has deteriorated slightly in the first and second week of the events, but ever since things have quickly improved for the better. And this deterioration is the result of the terror that pervaded the entire state ofNorth Darfur because of the violent clashes that took place between SAF and RSF. Work in this regard (counseling sessions and therapy) did not stop, but continues. Indeed, the number of new attendees is increasing on a daily basis.Currently, we have about 212 victims most of whom are teenage girls) who come on a regular basis to attend the sessions.

• Total of counseling sessions May 21 – June 21, 2023:

92 individual counseling sessions.

61 group counseling sessions.

[3] Urinary fistula patients. Our efforts over the past two and a half years have seen the health situation of fistula patients who received treatment increase tremendously. Sadly, the waiting list for those who have yet to receive surgical treatment is long and frustrating for the patients; however, the counselors are doing everything in their capacity to provide necessary support, from psychological counseling to giving moral support to assure the patients.

• Number of people who received surgical medical treatment for traumatic fistulas:

May: 3 patients

June: 3 patients

[4] Distribution of basic necessities. The war that broke out on the fifteenth of April in Sudan stopped life and commercial activity both inside and outside Sudan. This sudden halt has created confusion and tension, and in the markets has led to shortages and scarcity of basic necessities in the market. There have been highly significant increases in the prices of food and other vital necessities.

Those who suffer most from this confusing situation and the tension it creates are the residents of the camps, who were already suffering from an acute shortage of food: violence against farmers over the past three agricultural seasons has been disastrous. Through our routine visits, we noticed great suffering and deep human tragedies in all corners of the camp. This results from the lack of food and the inability to buy any supplies. Those who have depended on relief from the World Food Program are not in a better condition than those who have not been receiving WFP food.

In Zamzam, as in the other camps throughout Darfur, shortages of food have become the major concern for everyone. As usual, we focused on purchasing the basic necessities for the people most in need.

The following commodities were distributed in May and June:

13 bags of sugar, each bag containing 50 kilograms

8 bags of flour, each bag contains 50 kilograms

20 packages of pasta, each package contains 20 packs, each half a kilogram

4 large containers of cooking oil, each containing 13 litres of oil

6 boxes of washing soap, each containing 48 bars of soap.

• Number of beneficiaries for May 2023:

Total of 187 families

Total of 316 persons

• Number of beneficiaries for June 2023:

Total of 201 families

Total of 328 persons

How to Help

Assistance is urgently needed and will be greatly appreciated by Team Zamzam, and by the girls and women whose suffering they seek to alleviate. Increasingly importantly, the distribution of food and medicine presently is all that assists many within the camp who are daily moving closer to starvation (see above). Here I should also stress the tremendous efficiencies of purchases by a staff with local knowledge, as well as the value of their deep understanding of where need is greatest within this vast camp, swollen with recent displacements caused by insecurity.

NB: It is now possible to make a tax-deductible contribution to our project, using a portal on the website of a 501/c/3organization operating in SudanOperation Broken Silence, working primarily on health and education issues in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan, has created a special site for a tax-deductible contributions toour project, and we hope this makes contributing to the health and well-being of girls and women in Zamzam easier for Donors.

We also hope that all will keep in mind our project as a whole operates with truly extraordinary efficiency, in ways matched by no humanitarian organization operating in Darfur that I am aware of, a region I have been researching for two decades. There is absolutely no overhead for this project.

Those wishing to assist in funding the work of Team Zamzam may also send a check directly to Eric (Eric Reeves, 31 Franklin St., Northampton, MA 01060)


Purchase one of his woodturnings: https://www.ericreeves-woodturner.com/gallery

100% of the purchase price of every woodturning directly supports the project in Zamzam. 


Previous updates are archived at: https://www.ericreeves-woodturner.com/blog/

A “YouTube” video of Eric describing the project can be found at: https://youtu.be/QsRUa7GoVgY


Eric Reeves, Ph.D.

Sudan research, analysis, asylum representation, and philanthropy

Fellow, Rift Valley Institute

Trustee, Darfur Bar Association

Formerly a Senior Fellow at Harvard University’s François-Xavier Bagnoud Center

for Health and Human Rights.

Founder, co-Chair Project Responding to Sexual Violence in Darfur  

Twitter: @SudanReeves