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Sudan faces rising humanitarian need as fighting continues

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

In Sudan, casualties continue to rise in the fight between two rival military factions. Urban warfare in the country's capital, Khartoum, has been so intense that people are afraid to leave their homes. The violence is just the latest challenge to a country already on the brink, where 16 million people, roughly a third of the population, are already in need of humanitarian aid, according to the United Nations. On the line with us from Khartoum is Arshad Malik. He's country director in Sudan for Save the Children. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

ARSHAD MALIK: Thank you very much.

DETROW: You know, as we speak, a 24-hour cease-fire was supposed to have gone into effect already. Are you seeing or hearing any signs that that's happening? Has the violence around you stopped or decreased?

MALIK: Since yesterday till this morning, it was relatively quiet, and we were really happy about the news of the cease-fire. To be very honest with you, I don't think anyone has actually tried to see whether it's effective. We did hear gunshots, and we hear them still, but I doubt anyone has effectively tried it, considering that it's very dark now. And I don't think so anyone will go out...

DETROW: Yeah.

MALIK: ...At this time.

DETROW: I'm wondering what you have seen with your own eyes the past few days. Have you been able to look around, go outside? Have you seen any of this destruction firsthand?

MALIK: No, no. Like I think - as I said, like, most of the people are trying to stay indoor. We are expecting quite a bit of destruction.

DETROW: Yeah.

MALIK: I think we are mentally ready that there is a lot of destruction. There's a lot of unwanted scenes we will see. But I think that's what we are here for, to provide support...

DETROW: Yeah.

MALIK: ...In such circumstances.

DETROW: And there's talk of using this humanitarian window if the cease-fire holds tomorrow. What will your group be trying to do if, in fact, it is safe to go out?

MALIK: If the humanitarian window materializes - and we were already in discussion with the Ministry of Health to understand what are the needs. And we do understand there is a critical shortage of medical supplies, including blood bags and other surgical items, but also other much-needed, essential medical items. And then there are hospitals, which are not functional in Khartoum, particularly because three - because of these reasons and one, basically, security issue and some buildings being damaged, but also lack of medical supplies, and also doctors and medical staff are not able to reach because of the access issues.

DETROW: Yeah.

MALIK: So our discussion with Ministry of Health was focused on how do we make sure that we provide essential services to ensure that we are, one, able to provide support to injured and sick people, but also more of, like, psychosocial support to the rest of people who need it?

DETROW: The civilians that you're able to be in touch with, what are they doing to stay safe amid this widespread fighting?

MALIK: The only thing we can do, including all the peoples we spoke with - and I know I've been in touch with my staff and other friends and people otherwise - everyone is just staying where they are, trying to take shelter. We have reports from our staff where bullets have actually hit their windows. There are other people who have told that the rooftops have been damaged or other parts of the buildings have been damaged because of projectiles or mortars. So people are trying to take shelter wherever they can. There is nothing else. There's nothing much we can do. There are reports of armed men basically attacking various compounds, especially targeting international community, including diplomatic missions in Khartoum.

DETROW: Are you concerned that humanitarian workers could be targeted right now?

MALIK: So four humanitarian workers died in Darfur, North Darfur - three World Food Programme staff and one Relief International staff died due to this conflict. So yes, we are concerned about the safety and security of humanitarian workers.

DETROW: In your gut feeling, is this a short-term conflict, or is this something you're worried could drag on for a very long time?

MALIK: We hope and pray it ends soon.

DETROW: Yeah.

MALIK: If you asked us, like, late Friday, early Saturday, no one expected this. So we expect that this is just short term. No one would like to see Sudan - and the Syrian-Sudanese people do not deserve this. So I hope it ends soon, yeah.

DETROW: Yeah. That's Arshad Malik, the country director in Sudan for Save the Children. Thank you so much for speaking with us, and stay safe.

MALIK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Megan Lim
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.
Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.