Project Update, May 29, 2023: Responding to Sexual Violence in Darfur

May 29, 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, I am providing here a substantial (but by no means complete) overview of the violence that is presently overwhelming all of Sudan—not only the greater Khartoum urban area, but man other areas, including Darfur—in particular North Darfur’s capital city (El Fasher). I discuss, insofar as possible, the situation in Zamzam camp for internally displaced persons, 15 kilometers to the southwest of El Fasher.

Communication with our project counselors has proved extremely difficult over the past six weeks. The electrical grid throughout the country has been severely compromised, and it has been necessary for us to buy a small generator for our project coordinating counselor to allow for the recharging of phones. 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.

Much of the information/assessments I offer here comes from Gaffar—who has an extraordinarily wide range of contacts, both in Khartoum and Darfur, as well as the Sudanese diaspora—but also from other sources I have come to trust over many years. This said, definitive accounts are impossible and even major outbreaks of violence (e.g., in the Zalingei area of Central Darfur) are often reported belatedly. In West Darfur we have many accounts of the horrific violence that has been unleashed by Hemedti’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and allied Arab militias, but with many gaps in the larger picture. We do know that El Geneina, capital of West Darfur—as well as IDP camps near the city—have been devastated and that there is an unmistakable ethnic character to the violence: the primary targets have been the Massalit, one of the major non-Arab tribal groups in Darfur.

             [The savagery of violence in Khartoum is partially captured in this extraordinary dispatch from Reuters (May 29):

“Dozens of babies die in orphanage as Sudan war takes grim toll on Khartoum”
   In the days after war erupted in Khartoum, Dr Abeer Abdullah rushed between rooms at Sudan’s largest orphanage, trying to    care for hundreds of babies and toddlers as the fighting kept all but a handful of staff away. Children’s cries rang through the sprawling building as heavy gunfire rocked the surroundings, she said.
   Then came waves of deaths. There were the infants housed on the upper floors of the state-run orphanage, known as Mygoma. Without enough staff to care for them, they succumbed to severe malnutrition and dehydration, the doctor said. And there were the already-fragile newborns in her medical clinic on the ground floor, some of whom died after developing high fever, she said.
   “They needed to be fed every three hours. There was no one there,” said Abdullah, speaking by phone from the orphanage, the cries of wailing babies audible in the background. “We tried to give intravenous therapy but most of the time we couldn’t rescue the children.”
   The daily deaths ticked up to two, three, four and higher, Abdullah said. At least 50 children – at least two dozen of them babies – have died at the orphanage in the six weeks since the war broke out in mid-April, according to Abdullah. That includes at least 13 babies who died on Friday, May 26, she said.]

[Complete indifference to the fates of those in orphanages, hospitals, medical facilities, and ambulances has been a hallmark of Hemedti’s Rapid Support Forces fighting in Khartoum—ER]


The most recent word from Gaffar (May 28) is that there has been intense fighting in various parts of El Fasher involving the RSF and regular army forces, and that large explosions have become commonplace (this comports with a May 29 dispatch from Radio Dabanga, the most authoritative news reporting service for Darfur). Those forced to live in Zamzam camp are sheltering in place; but without food and water, this sheltering can last only for a limited period of time. The chances of humanitarian relief reaching any part of Darfur soon—at least from the east—are exceedingly remote. Humanitarian supplies are largely frozen in place in Port Sudan on the Red Sea, more than 500 miles northeast of the Khartoum urban areas. And most areas in Darfur are another 500 miles west/southwest from Khartoum. Roads are extremely insecure, with constant checkpoints on the roads manned by heavily armed RSF militiamen. Roads from Khartoum to Darfur are impossibly dangerous. Given the critical needs of people in Darfur, establishing an air corridor for relief will be essential in the short term.

Zamzam until the past week has been calm enough for the normal activities of our project to proceed, and although I have not received from the coordinating counselor her typical detailed account of the activities (for the reasons indicated above). Gaffar has been sufficiently in touch to gather that from April 21 to May 21, the activities of the counselors and the project as a whole have been roughly comparable to those of the previous month. Hence I provide below the account offered for the period March 21 to April 21. (Going forward, it is quite uncertain as of this writing whether there will be sufficient security to allow for fistula patients to be conveyed to and from the surgical clinic in El Fasher—or whether there will be medical resources available for the surgeries.)

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.


I am in regular touch with a senior humanitarian official—both to offer granular detail about the situation in the El Fasher region and to learn what I can about broader humanitarian relief activities. What is clear to all is that the situation is exceedingly grim, with neither side in the civil war raging in Khartoum prepared to end the fighting or allow for substantial deliveries of critical humanitarian supplies.

Recovery in Darfur will take a great deal of time; more than 350,000 people have fled Sudan, more than 100,000 of them from Darfur into eastern Chad (more than 1.8 million people have been internally displaced within Sudan, according to the International Organization, and that number is poised to explode upward). When security has been sufficiently re-established, Team Zamzam will be more important than ever, with a comprehensive knowledge of how best to apportion supplies purchased with the monthly budget, even if some allocations are perforce revised. The counselors will also be invaluable advisers to international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) attempting to respond to the needs of the more than 400,000 people living in Zamzam.

One especially despicable feature of the current violence is the surge in sexual violence—in Khartoum, in Darfur (especially in West Darfur), and elsewhere in the country. In the overwhelming number of cases, the Rapid Support Forces of Hemedti have been found to be responsible by independent reporting sources (see ANNEX 1).

Sadly, the international community has found it far too easy to ignore Darfur’s past twenty years of suffering and genocidal destruction. And it may well find it even easier to ignore Darfur’s realities going forward, given the massive suffering and destruction throughout Sudan, a country of 45 million, more than a third of whom needed humanitarian assistance before the fighting began in Khartoum on April 15.

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 Sovereignty Council, 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 to September. 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 Agriculture Organization 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 the June-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.


This past month has seen our project in Zamzam purchase a generator to ensure that the phones of the counselors can continue to be charged. An additional $1,000 will be allocated for the purchase of food and medicine for the most desperately needy within the immense camp population. The sheer scarcity of food has led to unprecedented inflation in prices, as Gaffar notes in his communication of yesterday (May 28):

If there is something that the counselors wish to communicate urgently, it is that humanitarian organizations and charities must redouble their efforts in the coming days and intervene in the very near future to halt the starvation that will spread in the coming weeks. The entire life of the region has come to a standstill since the outbreak of fighting on April 15.

The agricultural season is due to begin in Darfur during the coming month; but it seems likely to fail—as have the past two seasons—because the insecurity that is a function of the proliferation of heavy weapons in the hands of militias affiliated with the Rapid Support Forces.

During the past two weeks, the counselors have noticed a staggeringly exorbitant cost in basic necessities, and the difficulty of traveling to El Fasher to buy food and medicine because of the chaotic security situation created by the RSF and their affiliated Arab militia groups.

Again, through May 21, 2023, Team Zamzam was able to accomplish a great deal—comparable to what was accomplished last month, but unable to be communicated in detail:

Monthly Activities

For the month of April (March 21 to April 21) we distributed basic necessities in the form of a Ramadan food package, intended to relieve the distress of the poorest and most vulnerable families.

Altogether, 322 families benefited from this distribution:

  • 103 families who are assisting orphans
  • 86  families of widows and debilitated women
  • 61  families of the elderly
  • 42  families with persons who are physically and/or visually handicapped
  • 30 families with paralyzed children

Type of foodstuffs that have been distributed :

  • 16  large bags of sugar, each containing 50 kg.
  • 8  cartons of tea containing, each 75 bags
  • 12  cartons of soap, each containing 40 of soap
  • 10  cartons of pasta, each containing 10 half-kilo bags
  • 108 bottles of cooking oil, each bottle contained 1 liter

Other work

• We have overseen the rehabilitation of a fourth water pump in the camp (this one in D section) and named “Gordy’s Memorial Well.”

• A total of 26 routine inspection visits were carried out in the four sections of the camp to check on people’s living conditions and to evaluate current security concerns.

• Between April 1 and April 14, three fistula surgeries were performed. The three patients were:

   Hatouma Abdullah Muhammad, 22 years old

   Hawa Jamous Al-Tom, 23 years old

   Mahasin Ibrahim Hamed, 27 years old

All were accompanied to the hospital, and their treatment went well. They have been given follow-up appointments. Successful fistula surgeries funded by this project have now rescued more than 65 girls and women from lives of agonizing pain, deep depression, and humiliating social ostracization.

• A total of 74 people, mostly children and women suffering from a variety of illnesses, were accompanied to hospitals for medical treatment.

• A total of 26 routine inspection visits were carried out in the four sections of the camp to check on people’s living conditions and to evaluate current security concerns.


Our primary mission remains unchanged: providing psychosocial counseling to girls and women traumatized by extreme sexual violence. This entailed:

48 individual counseling sessions

15 group counseling sessions

How to Help

Additional 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/3 organization operating in Sudan. Operation 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 to our 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:

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


Previous updates are archived at:

A “You Tube” video of Eric describing the project can be found at:


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