Despite the near-constant danger, 36-year-old Walid Abdel Mawla al-Sideeg regularly heads out to the battle-ridden streets of Khartoum to deliver food to families holed up in their homes.
He is not a humanitarian worker; during peacetime, he was a journalist. Instead, like many other Sudanese civilians, his actions are borne out of a dogged determination to protect the country’s vulnerable as the country’s infrastructure is torn apart by war.
Al-Sideeg started the Khartoum Food Bank on April 18, three days after fighting between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) erupted. The food bank has since grown into an essential lifeline for thousands of families in the city.
But, it is just one of countless civilian committees across the country that have banded together to support the communities racked by shortages of food, water and medical supplies. Prices have also skyrocketed, leaving many unable to afford essentials.
Al-Sideeg told Al Jazeera that he and more than a dozen men who operate the food bank “face many dangers on a daily basis” as they scour food supplies from any store that is open and attempt the treacherous journeys to homes around the city.
Some families have gone without food for up to three days; others are in areas where fighting is so intense that al-Sideeg and his team cannot reach them. On those occasions, they send them cash transfers and hope that they can reach a grocery store themselves.
Sudanese diaspora help
The Khartoum food bank, like many of the country’s burgeoning civil committees, is funded by members of the Sudanese diaspora, who respond to calls on social media for support.
After receiving donations, al-Sideeg and other members of the food bank brave the streets to buy beans, lentils, flour, onions and other essential foodstuffs before rationing them out into bags according to each family’s needs.
The network of civil committees and expatriate donors also use social media to share vital logistical information.
“This generation is making miracles,” explained Aseel Geries, a public health specialist, civil servant and activist currently in Wad Madani, a city in east-central Sudan. “It is the diaspora, especially in the US and the UK, through social media, who tell us that this road is safe, or these nurses can treat you here,” she told Al Jazeera over the phone, her voice cracking with emotion.
Al Jazeera spoke to one Sudanese national, Walaa, now in Saudi Arabia, who is helping raise funds. “Sudan is not really getting anything from any other countries,” Walaa said. “They haven’t been helping with emergency aid, so it’s just us, Sudanese people, who are really trying to help in any way possible”.
‘If you are not shot, you will die of a chronic disease’
Geries made the dangerous journey from Khartoum to Wad Madani with her aunt on the third day of fighting and has been using social media ever since to help others out of the city, notifying them of how and when they should attempt to flee.
Sunday 30th of April 5:30 PM
Anyone heading from Shandi to Khartoum through the circular road, there are about 4 checkpoints SAF and RSF, they searched our cars and asked us if we were doctors we have of course denied that, other than that they don’t ask much#KeepEyeOnSudan https://t.co/hOabhuVgLa
— أسيل (@aseelgeries) April 30, 2023
She said many people arrive at Wad Madani from Khartoum in a “dire state and need urgent medical treatment”.
She recently helped evacuate her friend, a 25-year-old man who had been shot in the back while driving his car in Khartoum and could not receive medical assistance. “Hospital theatres were not working, there were no surgeries or doctors available, and even a CT scan was almost impossible,” she said.
She used her connections to get him to Wad Madani, where he underwent surgery and physical therapy, but he remains paralysed from the waist down.
Geries said doctors have also been specifically targeted and arrested by RSF soldiers in Khartoum who use them to treat injured troops. Her relative, who is a doctor, now carries his passport instead of an ID card, as it does not state his profession.
Wad Madani has not seen any major fighting, she said, and it remains one of the few places in the country where some international humanitarian organisations have a presence. But Geries added that the medical infrastructure in the city is overwhelmed, and there is a “serious shortage of life-saving medicines”.
“If you have not been shot, you will die of a chronic disease,” she explained, adding that “more than 21,000 people are in need of dialysis”.
Through funds raised by the diaspora, she and other civilians are able to buy medicines required for specific critical cases at local pharmacies, although stocks are fast running out.
Geries said some pregnant women and cancer patients have been unable to receive treatment.
“The health level is collapsing due to the acute shortage of life-saving medicines,” Reem al-Tayib told Al Jazeera from Port Sudan. She says that she is currently trying to help a cancer patient who requires urgent chemotherapy, but has so far been unable to receive or afford it.
When Ashraf Mohamed Osman, a game designer from Khartoum, could not find an open pharmacy in his area, he started to gather information from social media and created a spreadsheet that contained up-to-date information about which pharmacies were operational.
“All the pharmacy owners are scared for their lives,” he said. “If they do open, it’s just for a few hours”.
Any excursion to reach a pharmacy is fraught with danger, so it is essential to be as efficient as possible if you leave the house. “If you decide to risk your life to find medicine and use your car, you will run out of fuel as gas stations are closed.”
Osman is now working on collecting additional information regarding specific shortages, including insulin, which is used to treat diabetes and is in short supply.
Geries believes the younger generation will continue to use social media to raise awareness of what parts of the country are most in need. Currently, she said, el-Geneina, a city in West Darfur, is almost completely isolated and racked by fighting, with all medical facilities out of order, leading civilian activists to use hashtags on social media to keep attention on the situation there.
Al-Sideeg said, at his food bank, everyone rejected the war “because it only brings destruction as we see with all the families who had to flee their homes, we are calling the fighting parties to stop the war as its harming every family”.