Water Crisis Batters War-Torn Sudan as Temperatures Soar

People refill donkey-drawn water tanks during a water crisis in Port Sudan in the Red Sea State of war-torn Sudan on April 9, 2024. (AFP)
People refill donkey-drawn water tanks during a water crisis in Port Sudan in the Red Sea State of war-torn Sudan on April 9, 2024. (AFP)
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Water Crisis Batters War-Torn Sudan as Temperatures Soar

People refill donkey-drawn water tanks during a water crisis in Port Sudan in the Red Sea State of war-torn Sudan on April 9, 2024. (AFP)
People refill donkey-drawn water tanks during a water crisis in Port Sudan in the Red Sea State of war-torn Sudan on April 9, 2024. (AFP)

War, climate change and man-made shortages have brought Sudan -- a nation already facing a litany of horrors -- to the shores of a water crisis.

"Since the war began, two of my children have walked 14 kilometers (nine miles) every day to get water for the family," Issa, a father of seven, told AFP from North Darfur state.

In the blistering sun, as temperatures climb past 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), Issa's family -- along with 65,000 other residents of the Sortoni displacement camp -- suffer the weight of the war between Sudan's army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

When the first shots rang out more than a year ago, most foreign aid groups -- including the one operating Sortoni's local water station -- could no longer operate. Residents were left to fend for themselves.

The country at large, despite its many water sources including the mighty Nile River, is no stranger to water scarcity.

Even before the war, a quarter of the population had to walk more than 50 minutes to fetch water, according to the United Nations.

Now, from the western deserts of Darfur, through the fertile Nile Valley and all the way to the Red Sea coast, a water crisis has hit 48 million war-weary Sudanese who the US ambassador to the United Nations on Friday said are already facing "the largest humanitarian crisis on the face of the planet."

- No fuel, no water -

Around 110 kilometers east of Sortoni, deadly clashes in North Darfur's capital of El-Fasher, besieged by RSF, threaten water access for more than 800,000 civilians.

Medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on Friday said fighting in El-Fasher had killed at least 226.

Just outside the city, fighting over the Golo water reservoir "risks cutting off safe and adequate water for about 270,000 people", the UN children's agency UNICEF has warned.

Access to water and other scarce resources has long been a source of conflict in Sudan.

The UN Security Council on Thursday demanded that the siege of El-Fasher end.

If it goes on, hundreds of thousands more people who rely on the area's groundwater will go without.

"The water is there, but it's more than 60 meters (66 yards) deep, deeper than a hand-pump can go," according to a European diplomat with years of experience in Sudan's water sector.

"If the RSF doesn't allow fuel to go in, the water stations will stop working," he told AFP, requesting anonymity because the diplomat was not authorized to speak to media.

"For a large part of the population, there will simply be no water."

Already in the nearby village of Shaqra, where 40,000 people have sought shelter, "people stand in lines 300 meters long to get drinking water," said Adam Rijal, spokesperson for the civilian-led General Coordination for Displaced Persons and Refugees in Darfur.

In photos he sent to AFP, some women and children can be seen huddled under the shade of lonely acacia trees, while most swelter in the blazing sun, waiting their turn.

- Dirty water -

Sudan is hard-hit by climate change, and "you see it most clearly in the increase in temperature and rainfall intensity," the diplomat said.

This summer, the mercury is expected to continue rising until the rainy season hits in August, bringing with it torrential floods that kill dozens every year.

The capital Khartoum sits at the legendary meeting point of the Blue Nile and White Nile rivers -- yet its people are parched.

The Soba water station, which supplies water to much of the capital, "has been out of service since the war began," said a volunteer from the local resistance committee, one of hundreds of grassroots groups coordinating wartime aid.

People have since been buying untreated "water off of animal-drawn carts, which they can hardly afford and exposes them to diseases," he told AFP, requesting anonymity for fear of reprisal.

Entire neighborhoods of Khartoum North "have gone without drinking water for a year," another local volunteer told AFP, requesting to be identified only by his first name, Salah.

"People wanted to stay in their homes, even through the fighting, but they couldn't last without water," Salah said.

- Parched and displaced -

Hundreds of thousands have fled the fighting eastward, many to the de facto capital of Port Sudan on the Red Sea -- itself facing a "huge water issue" that will only get "worse in the summer months," resident al-Sadek Hussein worries.

The city depends on only one inadequate reservoir for its water supply.

Here, too, citizens rely on horse- and donkey-drawn carts to deliver water, using "tools that need to be monitored and controlled to prevent contamination," public health expert Taha Taher told AFP.

"But with all the displacement, of course this doesn't happen," he said.

Between April 2023 and March 2024, the health ministry recorded nearly 11,000 cases of cholera -- a disease endemic to Sudan, "but not like this" when it has become "year-round," the European diplomat said.

The outbreak comes with the majority of Sudan's hospitals shut down and the United States warning on Friday that a famine of historic global proportions could unfold without urgent action.

"Health care has collapsed, people are drinking dirty water, they are hungry and will get hungrier, which will kill many, many more," the diplomat said.



Palestinian Olympic Team Greeted with Cheers and Gifts in Paris

Palestinian athletes Yazan Al Bawwab and Valerie Tarazi try a date offered to them by a young supporter upon arriving to the Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, at the 2024 Summer Olympics, Thursday, July 25, 2024, in Roissy, north of Paris, France. (AP Photo/Megan Janetsky)
Palestinian athletes Yazan Al Bawwab and Valerie Tarazi try a date offered to them by a young supporter upon arriving to the Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, at the 2024 Summer Olympics, Thursday, July 25, 2024, in Roissy, north of Paris, France. (AP Photo/Megan Janetsky)
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Palestinian Olympic Team Greeted with Cheers and Gifts in Paris

Palestinian athletes Yazan Al Bawwab and Valerie Tarazi try a date offered to them by a young supporter upon arriving to the Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, at the 2024 Summer Olympics, Thursday, July 25, 2024, in Roissy, north of Paris, France. (AP Photo/Megan Janetsky)
Palestinian athletes Yazan Al Bawwab and Valerie Tarazi try a date offered to them by a young supporter upon arriving to the Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, at the 2024 Summer Olympics, Thursday, July 25, 2024, in Roissy, north of Paris, France. (AP Photo/Megan Janetsky)

Palestinian Olympic athletes were greeted with a roar of a crowd and gifts of food and roses as they arrived in Paris on Thursday, ready to represent war–torn Gaza and the rest of the territories on a global stage.

As the beaming athletes walked through a sea of Palestinian flags at the main Paris airport, they said they hoped their presence would serve as a symbol amid the Israel-Hamas war that has claimed more than 39,000 Palestinian lives.

Athletes, French supporters and politicians in the crowd urged the European nation to recognize a Palestinian state, while others expressed outrage at Israel's presence at the Games after UN-backed human rights experts said Israeli authorities were responsible for “war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

“France doesn’t recognize Palestine as a country, so I am here to raise the flag,” said Yazan Al-Bawwab, a 24-year-old Palestinian swimmer born in Saudi Arabia. “We're not treated like human beings, so when we come play sports, people realize we are equal to them.”

"We're 50 million people without a country," he added.

Al-Bawwab, one of eight athletes on the Palestinian team, signed autographs for supporters and plucked dates from a plate offered by a child in the crowd.

The chants of “free Palestine” echoing through the Paris Charles de Gaulle airport show how conflict and the political tension are rippling through the Olympic Games. The world is coming together in Paris at a moment of global political upheaval, multiple wars, historic migration and a deepening climate crisis, all issues that have risen to the forefront of conversation in the Olympics.

In May, French President Emmanuel Macron said he prepared to officially recognize a Palestinian state but that the step should “come at a useful moment” when emotions aren’t running as high. That fueled anger by some like 34-year-old Paris resident Ibrahim Bechrori, who was among dozens of supporters waiting to greet the Palestinian athletes in the airport.

“I'm here to show them they're not alone, they're supported," Bechrouri said. Them being here “shows that the Palestinian people will continue to exist, that they won't be erased. It also means that despite the dire situation, they're staying resilient. They're still a part of the world and are here to stay.”

Palestinian ambassador to France Hala Abou called for France to formally recognize a Palestinian state and for a boycott of the Israeli Olympic delegation. Abou has previously said she has lost 60 relatives in the war.

“It’s welcome that comes as no surprise to the French people, who support justice, support the Palestinian people, support their inalienable right to self-determination,” she said.

That call for recognition comes just a day after Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a scathing speech to Congress during a visit to Washington, which was met with protests. He declared he would achieve “total victory” against Hamas and called those protesting the war on college campuses and elsewhere in the US “useful idiots” for Iran.

Israel's embassy in Paris echoed the International Olympic Committee in a “decision to separate politics from the Games.”

"We welcome the Olympic Games and our wonderful delegation to France. We also welcome the participation of all the foreign delegations," the Embassy wrote in a statement to The Associated Press. “Our athletes are here to proudly represent their country, and the entire nation is behind to support them.”

The AP has made multiple attempts to speak with Israeli athletes without success.

Even under the best of circumstances, it is difficult to maintain a vibrant Olympics training program in Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem. That's become next to impossible in nine months of war between Israel and Hamas as much of the country's sporting infrastructure have been devastated.

Among the large Palestinian diaspora worldwide, many of the athletes on the team were born or live elsewhere, yet they care deeply about the politics of their parents’ and grandparents’ homeland. Among them was Palestinian American swimmer Valerie Tarazi, who handed out traditional keffiyehs to supporters surrounding her Thursday.

“You can either crumble under pressure or use it as energy,” she said. “I chose to use it as energy.”