Torrential rain has caused harsh flooding in the Khartoum area of Sudan, displacing thousands and leading to the death of at least 38 people, including three children. The Sudanese government has placed restrictions on NGOs in the country and because of this, there’s an extreme dearth of potential help to the devastated areas. Independent relief initiatives are taking the place of aid agencies and government help.

Sudan’s Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC)   – a state entity – has a long history of putting frustrating speed bumps on international assistance. To be able to work in Sudan, any NGO must register with the HAC and renew its membership annually. It takes over week to get HAC papers, which is causing huge delays on the ground. Abeer Khairy, a software engineer  who created the Khartoum Crowd Map explained that no NGO has officially started working in impacted areas, and added that these bureaucratic government restrictions should be lifted in this time of severe crisis.

The government (and currently only legal body able to deploy assistance) has yet to prove any efficiency or ability to mobilize. Khairy has been mapping the calls to the Civil Defense hotline (998) to report emergencies such as floods, fallen houses and sewage mixed with floods, and said the first few days the calls came in, they were directed to Nafeer, a youth-led initiative Khairy is assisting, that’s been working on the ground from the start. One of the calls directed to Nafeer was from a woman whose husband was badly injured and was simultaneously facing water more than three feet high. “I believe that they simply saw us organized and moving faster than them,” Khairy said,  “so they thought why not let [Nafeer] carry the work.”

The Sudanese government is well known for the physical as well as logistical constraints it enforces on humanitarian workers in the country. It has a long history of violence toward those working in Darfur, struggling to provide the most basic of food, water and medical support to civilians desperate for relief.

At this point, no major international NGO organization could even consider entering the flood zone — the restrictions placed on their work by the government are too onerous. For now, ad hoc operations mounted by local groups on the ground are about the best hope to help flood victims as the waters continue to rise.

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