France hosts Sudan talks a year into 'forgotten' war

By Delphine Touitou and Joris Fioriti - AFP
Sudan Fighting in Sudan broke out a year ago.  By - AFP
Fighting in Sudan broke out a year ago. By - (AFP)

France and its allies on Monday sought to drum up hundreds of millions in aid for Sudan a year since civil war erupted, sparking one of the world's worst and most under-funded humanitarian crises.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed and 8.5 million more forced to flee their homes since fighting broke out on April 15 last year between rival generals.

Sudan is experiencing "one of the worst humanitarian disasters in recent memory", with more people displaced inside the country than anywhere else in the world and a fast-growing hunger crisis, the United Nations says.

At the conference in Paris, France is seeking contributions from the international community and attention to a crisis that officials say is being crowded out of the global conversation by conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza.

"For a year the Sudanese people have been the victims of a terrible war," French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne said. Yet they had also suffered from "being forgotten" and "indifference".

"This is the reason for our meetings today: to break the silence surrounding this conflict and mobilise the international community," he said in opening remarks.

The conference, co-hosted by Germany and the European Union, was to include a ministerial meeting on political matters as well as a humanitarian meeting to raise funds.

'Staggering' indifference

Aid workers say a year of war has led to a catastrophe, but the world has turned away from the country of 48 million as conflict rages between Sudan's army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.

Top diplomats from EU nations are present.  By Sarah Meyssonnier POOLAFP Top diplomats from EU nations are present. By Sarah Meyssonnier (POOL/AFP)

Only five percent of the 3.8-billion-euro ($4.1 billion) target in the UN's latest humanitarian appeal had been funded ahead of the conference this year, according to France's foreign ministry.

At the opening, a total of 840 million euros ($895 million) had been pledged after announcements from France, Germany, the European Union and the United States.

A diplomatic source, asking not to be named, said total donations could well top "a billion euros" by the end of the meeting.

On the fifth anniversary of a fire that ravaged the French capital's Notre Dame cathedral, Save the Children contrasted the lack of donations for Sudan with the international response to the Paris blaze.

"It is staggering that after a fire in which nobody died, donors from across the world were so moved to pledge funds to restore Notre Dame," said the charity's country director in Sudan, Arif Noor.

"Meanwhile, children in Sudan are left to fend for themselves as war rages around them, starvation and disease are on the increase and almost the entire country's child population has been out of school for a year."

Fourteen million children need humanitarian assistance to survive, Save the Children says.

According to Will Carter, Sudan country director for the Norwegian Refugee Council, civilians in Sudan are "enduring starvation, mass sexual violence, large-scale ethnic killing, and executions".

The conflict has sparked a humanitarian crisis, including in neighbouring Chad.  By Joris Bolomey AFP The conflict has sparked a humanitarian crisis, including in neighbouring Chad. By Joris Bolomey (AFP)

"Millions more are displaced, and yet the world continues to look the other way," he said earlier.

An estimated 1.8 million people have fled Sudan -- many to neighbouring Chad, now also suffering a humanitarian crisis -- and 6.7 million have been internally displaced.

'We can't get in'

Human Rights Watch says warring parties have blocked access for humanitarian assistance, pillaged foreign financial aid and targeted humanitarian workers in attacks.

The head of the UN's food agency warned the world should not wait for famine to be officially declared.

"Our goal now is to be able to get in... About 90 percent of the population can't be reached right now," WFP director Cindy McCain said.

"When we start talking about is there famine, is there not famine, the truth is we don't know because we can't get in."

The ministerial meeting, behind closed doors, brings together representatives from Sudan's neighbours, as well as from Gulf nations and Western powers, including the United States and Britain, along with regional organisations and the United Nations.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock lamented the failure of mediation efforts so far and urged "better coordination".

Chad's Foreign Minister Mahamat Saleh Annadif urged "pressure for there to be an immediate ceasefire".

"If we continue like this, in a year's time, Sudan risks disintegrating," he said.