Satellite images show devastation in Sudan 1 year since conflict began

It's "one of the worst humanitarian disasters in recent memory," the U.N. says.

April 15, 2024, 6:06 AM

LONDON -- Monday marks one year since the conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group began.

In one year, the conflict has precipitated "one of the worst humanitarian disasters in recent memory," according to the United Nations, displacing more than 8 million people. It's also been judged "the world’s largest internal displacement crisis," according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and has taken the lives of at least 14,000 people UN estimates suggest.

For Omnia Elgunaid, a university student, one year marks a somber milestone: "I can't believe a year has passed since the start of the worst nightmare of our lives," she told ABC News.

On April 15, 2023, Omnia said she was sleeping into the afternoon when she was woken up by "loud bombing." She said friends and family told her there was a war outside, but she didn't believe it at first.

"It was only when I checked my social media, and saw videos of jet fighters, bombs, shells, shootings that the spell was broken and I realized this is for real. The war has begun," she said.

The Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company Tower in satellite imagery from 2023 and 2024, shows fire damage

Satellite images show fire damage to one of the tallest buildings in the capital, Khartoum, the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC) Tower in the central business district, which caught fire during clashes on Sept. 17, 2023.

"It was just this beautiful characteristic of the Khartoum skyline," Tagreed Abdin, the senior architect of the construction phase of the 18-story tower, told ABC News from Cairo. "I have worked on a lot of buildings in Khartoum, but this was one of my favorites."

“I remember returning early from my honeymoon to start work on the project”, Abdin said from Cairo. But when she saw videos of the building aflame, she remembered all the effort and detail that went into its design, “The part of the building burning at the top, it was called the Jewel of the Nile. It was a great source of pride to me”.

A prominent landmark for Khartoum photographers, Moh Alameen Abudegana told ABC News he enjoyed capturing drone shots of the 18-storey tower. “It looks amazing reflecting the sunset light”.

Drone videographer Moh says he has "beautiful" memories of working at the GNPOC tower before the conflict.
Drone videographer Moh says he has "beautiful" memories of working at the GNPOC tower before the conflict.

Agricultural land in Al-Waha, Sudan seen in satellite imagery in 2023 and 2024, shows increased aridity

Oliver Kirui, a research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), said his team has been using satellite data to analyze the impact of the conflict on food security.

“Satellite imagery shows the reduction in green vegetation cover, the increased aridity points to the neglect or destruction of previously irrigated fields” Oliver Kirui told ABC News.

"The disruption of agricultural activities has severe implications for food security and livelihoods. This is compounded by the displacement of farming communities and the breakdown of supply chains” Kirui explains.

Speaking to ABC News over a video call, Leni Kinzli, head of communications at the World Food Programme (WFP), said the situation is "nothing short of catastrophe."

Until December, Al Jazirah, which the U.N. has called the "bread basket of Sudan," had been a safe haven for half a million displaced people, according to the U.N.

"One year ago, actually, almost to this day, I was in Al Jazirah state, where they produce a lot of wheat and they have this big irrigation scheme, and the farmers were just harvesting their wheat," Kinzli said. "And now one year later, we're looking at 40% below the average production in terms of the staple cereal crops, which is wheat, sorghum and millet."

In Darfur, Kinzli said crop production was 78% below the five-year average.

"The biggest challenge facing farmers is access to their farmlands, especially in areas where conflict is ongoing," Kinzli said. "This was what was so extremely alarming about the conflict spilling over into Wad Madani in the middle of December, as it made it even more difficult for farmers to cultivate their fields."

Last month the WFP warned there is a "very high risk" of "catastrophic levels of hunger in the coming months," particularly in hardest-hit areas that are also some of the conflict hotspots such as Sudan's capital of Khartoum, the Darfur region, and the Kordofan and Al Jazirah states.

Adre, Chad seen in satellite imagery in June 2023 and Oct 2022, shows the growth of an informal tent camp

Satellite imagery also shows an informal displacement camp in neighboring Chad has swelled, as the U.N. says the country is hosting 38% of the total refugee population from Sudan.

"It never stopped," Claire Nicolet -- head of the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, emergency response in Sudan and Chad -- said on the steady arrival of people into the border town of Adre. "We are starting again to see a really high number of people, this time because of food insecurity."

Kinzli said the war in Sudan has compounded Chad's preexisting food insecurity, saying: "It's now a competition over very scarce resources."

The University of Khartoum campus in satellite imagery from 2023 and 2024, shows structural damage to buildings

Satellite imagery shows fire and structural damage to the University of Khartoum. The public university located in Sudan's capital claims to be the country's "largest and oldest." Images posted on social media in the first weeks of the conflict show buildings across the campus that are burned, looted and vandalized.

"Before the war, the goal was to become successful. Now the goal is just to live," Omnia Elgunald, a university alumna who graduated just two months before the conflict began, told ABC News over the phone.

According to the IOM, approximately 3 million people have left Khartoum, the epicenter of the conflict. Kirui’s team at the IFPRI has recorded a decrease in both nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentration and nightlight intensity in Khartoum. Kirui also notes a decrease in both is indicative of population displacement.

Tagreed Abdin, the architect, recalled taking in the war-worn streets of Khartoum through a car window as she fled with her husband, three sons and elderly parents.

"I'm looking at the complete damage, people's life work, and I'm thinking that building a home in Sudan is so hard. It takes generations to build a house and you always dream of leaving it for your children," she said. "Everything was taken away in the most violent way possible."

"Everyone lost everything," she added. "If you owned a palace you lost a palace, if you owned a hut you lost a hut."

In a statement to ABC News, the U.S. State Department described the one-year anniversary as a " somber reminder of the conflict that has caused Sudan to be the largest displacement crisis in the world."

"We continue to urge both warring parties to uphold the commitments they agreed to in Jeddah to facilitate the rapid and unimpeded delivery of humanitarian relief," a State Department spokesperson said.

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