The state of energy in Sudan has always been horrendous. The majority of Sudanese are energy poor, and only 45% of the population has access to electricity.
Since the conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) erupted in April 2023, the energy sector’s fragility appeared manifold. In many states, the devastation that befell the sector was so swift and palpable that even an experienced analyst wouldn’t have predicted it to happen as such.
Except for the grid-connected, hydro-powered parts of the country, most of the states are now completely without electricity. The national grid, which depends on hydroelectric dams, includes the states of Khartoum, White Nile, Sennar, River Nile, parts of North and West Kordofan, and the Northern State.
The rest of the states rely on independent power plants that operate on fossil fuels. Obviously, the supply chain was disrupted after April 15th, and just a few weeks after the conflict started, power plants in most of Darfur, Kordofan, and Eastern states had to shut down.
An image of a power line in Sudan. Source EQ International
Citizens counting losses and the power blackouts persist
“I lost all my frozen poultry and yogurt in a matter of days,” remarked Emam Mansour, a shopkeeper in El Obied, the capital of North Kordofan. The power outage he cited at the time lasted for tens of days although the city is connected to the national grid.
All five states of Darfur rely on independent grids scattered within a limited number of cities, and which operate on thermal power plants. Expectedly, the conflict in West, Central, South, and North Darfur, coupled with the inadequate infrastructure between and within these states brought the Darfur region to an energy crisis.
Eddaein in East Darfur faced long weeks of electricity shutdown, and it is undoubted that the crisis is even more dire in El Geneina and Zalinji, the capitals of West and Central Darfur, respectively. El Fashir of North Darfur is not an exception, as the power outage in the city spanned “approximately three weeks" as stated Ahmed Sherrif, a resident of the city.
Even in the relatively peaceful East side of Sudan, the impact of the war on energy supply can be felt. “We have experienced 3 consecutive weeks of a power outage,” said Mohammed, a student who relocated to Port Sudan from Khartoum, and whose previous hopes of finding refuge and safe haven in the new interim capital seem to have turned to bitter disappointments.
The ramifications of electricity absence are enormous and varied, but chief among them is the lack of cellular communication services. Most cities and small towns have communication towers that rely on the grid’s electricity.
Ideally, these towers have diesel generators as a backup for when there is a temporary power cut. Now there is neither grid electricity nor enough diesel for the backup generators to run the towers. With this fragile, risky setup, the communication network was always on the edge of a precipice, and the first test revealed its underlying deficiency.
Screenshot from IODA showing the shutdown of Sudatel’s internet services on April 23 and their return on April 24. Source: smex.org
As a result of the power shutdowns and consequent telecom outages, people lost contact with family members and relatives for weeks and in some states for months. Mobile bank transactions were halted as well, and millions of people in the conflict areas struggled to send or receive money, as cash has become scarce.
A reflection on alternative power sources?
Tragically and in the same vein, access to water services is becoming more difficult than ever. The water distribution networks in the big cities collapsed, and villagers especially have to grind on independent, diesel-powered water wells (locally called Dawankee).
A diesel-powered water well that, brilliantly, has solar panels as backup, Eddaein, East Darfur
The energy scarcity has massively affected the health sector, since most towns struggled to provide adequate electricity for major hospitals and small health centers.
As saddening as it appears, the predicament offers a chance for reflection. In the new Sudan, there must be a concrete government strategy to revitalize the energy sector. The plan must be forged on the basis of reliability and inclusive access for every citizen.
Only if every communication tower had a solar system as a backup and every water well an additional solar panel connected to it, the suffering could have been way less than what people are experiencing right now.