Urgent call to restore telecoms in war-torn Sudan

Urgent call to restore telecoms in war-torn Sudan
Urgent call to restore telecoms in war-torn Sudan

As the country is on the brink of a major hunger crisis, there are calls to restore communications to ensure aid can be coordinated where it’s needed.

HAS coalition of human rights-focused non-governmental organizations has called for the urgent re-establishment of telecommunications infrastructure in Sudan, following a year of warfare in the country.

In a joint statement issued this week, 94 humanitarian, civil society and human rights organizations have appealed to various bodies – including the UN, the Sudanese government and Starlink – for the uninterrupted provision of telecommunications services in the war-torn country.

“We call upon all stakeholders to ensure the uninterrupted provision of telecommunication services in Sudan. Any shutdown of telecommunication services is a violation of human rights,” reads the joint statement.

The coalition says telecommunications infrastructure has been targeted by the various warring factions during the conflict, and this is affecting the provision of aid and food, and says the country is “on the brink of becoming the world’s worst hunger crisis”.

The latest bout of conflict to hit the country began last year as a power struggle erupted between the leadership of different branches of the military.

USA for UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, says half of Sudan’s population – some 25 million people – need humanitarian assistance and protection as a result of the current conflict. It says the country is facing extreme shortages of food, water, medicine and fuel and nearly 18 million people are facing acute food insecurity.

“Both sides have consistently used targeted attacks on telecommunication infrastructure or the imposition of bureaucratic restrictions (such as the banning of the importation and use of certain satellite-internet devices) severely impacting civilian populations,” adds the coalition’s statement.

The humanitarian collective, which includes Action Against Hunger, Islamic Relief Worldwide and Save the Children, has called on combatants to refrain from attacking and damaging telecommunications infrastructure, and to facilitate the rehabilitation of any damaged systems.

The coalition has also called for an easing of restrictions of satellite internet services to facilitate the importation of satellite-internet devices.

Sudan’s government banned Starlink in December, and the satellite-based telco has recently said it will turn off services to the country.

The coalition’s statement details that while some levels of telecoms services were restored in the east of Sudan, large parts of the country remain disconnected from the cellular network providers, namely Zain, MTN and Sudani. It says affected areas, including the Darfur region, parts of Khartoum and the Kordofans, are the same areas that have been most exposed to conflict and have highest risk of famine.

Although satellite-based services, such as Starlink, are prohibitively expensive for much of the country’s population, they are being used by international aid agencies and local responders on the ground.

“While there remain valid concerns around the use of this technology – and other telecommunications systems – by the parties to the conflict, the potential shutdown of Starlink (as announced in April 2024) would have a disproportionate impact on civilians and the aid organizations who are trying to reach them,” says the collective.

The joint statement also calls on all service providers that can provide connectivity in the country to do so “without interruption or additional cost increases”. It identifies that this may include diversifying the connectivity technologies; be that “solutions based on satellite and WiMAX technology, or the use of e-SIMs near the country’s borders”.

Further, the coalition calls on the United Nations, through the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster, to urgently increase emergency telecommunications capacity in Darfur and the Kordofans. It has also requested that the UN provide access to services for all humanitarian bodies in the region until other options are available.

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