Fighting in Khartoum has killed at least 60 babies, toddlers and older children trapped in horrific conditions in an orphanage in the Sudanese capital over the past six weeks. Most of the children died of famine and fever. Last weekend, no fewer than 26 children died in two days.
The Al-Mayqoma Orphanage is located in the heart of Khartoum, one of the most fought-over areas, where stray bullets and grenades hit surrounding houses and buildings. Last week, part of the building was covered in a thick layer of dust as a result of shelling nearby. As a result, some rooms are currently not usable.
The situation was particularly dire in the first three weeks of the conflict, when the fighting was at its worst, says Sister Teresa, a nurse. At one point, the children were taken to the ground floor, where they had to stay away from the windows to avoid being hit by bullets or shrapnel. “It was like a prison… We were all prisoners who couldn’t even see through the window. We were all trapped.”
Shortage of everything
In those weeks, stocks of food, medicines, baby milk powder and other foodstuffs dwindled as staff could not go outside to seek help. “Many days we couldn’t find anything to feed them,” says Abdalla. “They (the children) cried all the time because they were hungry.”
The fighting also prevented many employees from reaching the center, which drastically reduced the number of nurses and caregivers. Many of them also fled themselves. “We had one or two nannies who took care of 20 or more children, including children with disabilities,” says volunteer Afkar Omar Moustafa.
More and more deaths
The lack of food and medicine took its toll. Initially there were three to six deaths per week, but then the number of deaths increased rapidly, peaking last weekend: fourteen children died on Friday, twelve on Saturday. “It is a catastrophic situation,” says Moustafa. “We expected this from day one (of the fighting, ed.).”
The news sparked outrage and panic on social media, and local charity Hadhreen was subsequently able to provide food, medicine and baby milk powder with the help of UNICEF and the International Committee of the Red Cross. The organization also carried out some repairs, including to the electricity and the emergency generator.
Urgent evacuation required
Orphanage workers warn that more children could die and urge an urgent evacuation from Khartoum. On Monday, at least 341 children were in the orphanage, including 165 babies between one and six months old and 48 babies between seven and 12 months old. The remaining 128 children are between one and thirteen years old.
24 children in the group were treated in hospitals in Khartoum before the outbreak of war, but they had to close due to power cuts or shelling in the area, says Heba Abdalla, who lived at the orphanage as a child and now works there as a nurse . Consequently, the children were sent back to the orphanage.
Always been difficult
Even before the outbreak of fighting, the orphanage did not have proper infrastructure and equipment, according to Moustafa. About 20 to 25 children were crammed into each room. Many slept on the floor. Babies lay in their cribs two by two.
The orphanage was established in 1961. Although funded by the government, it relies heavily on donations and assistance from national and international charities. The institution also made headlines in February 2022, when at least 54 children died in less than three months. Activists then called for support online and the army sent food aid, among other things.
crisis in Sudan
In Sudan, a violent power struggle broke out in mid-April between army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the head of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo. The RSF has since grown into a military and economic force that al-Burhan wants to break.
More than 860 civilians, including at least 190 children, have been killed in the fighting since April 15. Thousands more were injured, reports the Sudanese Doctors’ Syndicate, which keeps track of the number of civilian casualties. The actual figure is probably much higher.
More than 1.65 million people have been displaced and fled to safer regions in Sudan or nearby countries. Others are trapped in their homes, while water and food supplies continue to dwindle.
The fighting also disrupts the work of humanitarian groups. According to UNICEF, more than 13.6 million children in Sudan are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. That is a considerable increase compared to before the war, when that number was already almost nine million.
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