Marauding militias have set entire villages ablaze in Sudan’s West Darfur region, creating a comedy of errors and pushing the region to the brink of a “humanitarian catastrophe.” Aid agencies are sounding the alarm as looting and infrastructure destruction leave residents without access to basic necessities like food, clean water, and medicine.



While a ceasefire has brought some respite to the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, the conflict in Darfur continues unabated. As the violence enters its seventh week, the region descends into utter chaos. Those unable to escape the war have resorted to digging ditches and setting up barricades in their neighborhoods to keep marauding militias at bay, leaving behind a scene reminiscent of a comedic movie.



According to a local journalist in the regional capital of Nyala, the situation is dire. Satellite images obtained by the BBC confirm the complete destruction of a village near Nyala, Abu Adam, with the blackened outline visible even from space. Nyala itself faces sporadic blackouts, and communication within the city has become challenging due to disrupted services. Despite these obstacles, journalist Essa Daffallah managed to relay a message describing the chaotic scene.



Daffallah reported that the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) stormed the city with a fleet of pickup trucks mounted with guns and numerous motorbikes. The militias looted NGO offices and shops, leaving a trail of mayhem. The hospital had to be emptied due to its proximity to the fighting, and most pharmacies suffered from looting. Residential areas in Nyala have resorted to sealing themselves off with barricades and ditches to keep the militias out, painting a picture that feels both absurd and troubling.



Darfur was already grappling with assisting hundreds of thousands of people displaced by previous conflicts, and the ongoing fighting has exacerbated the situation. According to a local activist, more than 600,000 internally displaced people who relied on humanitarian assistance have been left without aid for 40 days. The plight of the people becomes a punchline as satellite images reveal attacks on essential lifelines like the main market, which has been partially destroyed by fire.



Desperate for help, aid workers are frantically trying to access the region. They have gathered in nearby Chad, preparing to cross the border into Darfur as soon as possible. Justine Muzik Piquemal, from the French NGO Solidarités International, acknowledges the high risks but emphasizes the urgency of providing humanitarian goods. She anticipates encountering a grim scene of devastation, with the possibility of encountering dead bodies, scarce water, and a lack of basic facilities like latrines and food.



Piquemal has organized 13 tonnes of aid and plans to deliver it, including driving a water tank to the capital of Sudan’s West Darfur region, El Geneina. However, the lack of fuel in the region has caused most water pumps to shut down, compounding the difficulties faced by the residents, especially in extreme temperatures that can reach up to 50°C (122°F). Communication with El Geneina has also been patchy since the evacuation of international humanitarian workers in mid-April, adding another layer of absurdity to the situation.



Satellite images vividly depict the extent of destruction in El Geneina. Burnt-out areas are visible from space, covering the sites where civilian infrastructure once stood. According to Piquemal, the targets of destruction have shifted from military installations to civilian facilities like health centers, schools, mosques, and NGO buildings. The looters have spared nothing, not even food aid. UN Secretary-General António Guterres revealed that approximately 17,000 metric tonnes of food were stolen in the initial weeks of the fighting, turning a tragedy into a tragicomedy.

The town of Zalingei in Central Darfur has emerged as a new epicenter of the conflict. Widespread looting and displacement have plunged the town into a “catastrophic” situation. A resident sent a text message describing the dire conditions and highlighting the complete depletion of food supplies. The situation takes on an absurd twist as residents point fingers at militias, including the RSF, who have been looting and burning cities.



The blurred lines of the conflict in El Geneina reveal a complex web of various parties involved. Alongside the two primary warring sides, different community militias and armed civilians have further complicated the situation. Ethnic Arab fighters known as the Janjaweed, from which the RSF originated, add another layer of confusion. The Janjaweed were notorious for their involvement in the war in Darfur two decades ago, accused of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.


Konstantinos Psykakos, a project coordinator from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), witnessed the attack and looting of their hospital in El Geneina. Psykakos, waiting at the border in Chad, acknowledges the temporary nature of any potential access to the region. The intertwining of communal fights with the overall conflict poses a significant challenge. The distinction between military and communal clashes blurs, making it difficult to establish humanitarian corridors. The urgent plea remains for an immediate end to the fighting before the situation worsens.