LONDON - With a widespread telecoms blackout already in place in Sudan, emergency help and humanitarian aid at risk if satellite service withdrawn, say NGOs quoted by the London-based Guardian.

Nearly 100 humanitarian groups in Sudan have warned Elon Musk he risks “collectively punishing” millions of Sudanese by shutting down his vital Starlink satellite internet service in the war-ravaged country.

Sudan has been grappling with a widespread telecommunications blackout for several months, with many aid groups using Starlink to operate during the humanitarian crisis which the UN has warned is the largest in decades.

However Starlink, the satellite arm of Musk’s SpaceX, recently said that it will remove its services in Sudan by restricting roaming in jurisdictions where it was not licensed.

The imminent termination of the system risks destabilising the coordination of emergency assistance and humanitarian services to millions of civilians caught up in the year-long civil conflict.

On Wednesday, a coalition of 94 rights organisations operating in Sudan issued a statement: “Any shutdown of telecommunication services is a violation of human rights and may be considered to be a collective punishment that will not only isolate individuals from their support networks but also exacerbate the already dire economic situation facing millions.”

The statement added: “The potential shutdown of Starlink would have a disproportionate impact on civilians and the aid organisations who are trying to reach them.”

Musk’s move will compound a widespread telecommunications blackout in Sudan with the two warring factions, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and Sudanese military, targeting relevant infrastructure.

The coalition, which includes Islamic Relief Worldwide and Sudan Human Rights Network, urges the repair of damaged infrastructure across the country.

A large group of people in a refugee camp.
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Since fighting between the RSF and Sudan’s military began in April 2023, more than 8 million people have fled their homes. Half of Sudan’s population – 25 million people – require humanitarian assistance.

The focus of alarm centres on El Fasher, the last city held by Sudan’s military in the western region of Darfur.

The UN warns that, as the city is encircled by the RSF, not only are “countless lives at stake” but the potential magnitude of the fighting meant the country was at a “tipping point”.

In areas where formal telecommunication is not working – the Darfur region, parts of Khartoum and the Kordofan states – civilians and humanitarian groups including emergency responders connect through informal Starlink internet cafes.

The same areas are also the most exposed to conflict and risk of famine, making the ramifications of the blackout even more profound.