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Sudan's humanitarian crisis explained

April 15, 2024 at 4:00 pm

Refugees fleeing the conflict in Sudan queue with their jerrycans to queue to collect drinking water from the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) distribution point at the Ourang refugee camp in Adre on December 7, 2023. [DENIS SASSOU GUEIPEUR/AFP via Getty Images]

A year of war between rival military factions in Sudan has pushed parts of the country to the brink of famine, and left 25 million people — about half the population — in need of humanitarian aid, according to aid agencies.

Sudan was already burdened with rising hunger, a collapsing health system and widespread poverty before the conflict between the army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) broke out in April 2023. Today, some 17.7m of Sudan’s 49 million people are facing what experts term acute food insecurity, a sharp increase from last year, according to a projection covering the five months to February by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), a globally recognised hunger monitor. That means that their lives or livelihoods are in immediate danger because they don’t have enough food.

Of those, 4.9m are estimated to be facing emergency levels of hunger, one step away from famine. The IPC said last month that it had not been able to update its assessment on Sudan because of data gaps and connectivity challenges, but it warned that immediate action is needed to prevent mass starvation and deaths. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable, since they often eat last and least within households and are at increased risk of gender-based and sexual violence.

Agriculture, which most of the population depends on for income, has been disrupted badly, as farmers flee the fighting and lose access to supplies. More than 8.6m people have fled their homes since the conflict started.

This makes Sudan the biggest displacement crisis globally, with an additional three million people homeless due to previous conflicts, mainly in Darfur.

More than two million of the displaced have crossed to neighbouring countries struggling with their own security and economic challenges. Hundreds of thousands have fled to Egypt, Chad and South Sudan, with small numbers arriving in Ethiopia and the Central African Republic.

Within Sudan, many were forced to flee for a second time as the RSF took control in December of Al-Gezira state, a hub for aid efforts where many people had sought shelter.

Sudan’s year-old war: The build-up and the turmoil

The war has hammered economic activity, with the economy contracting 12 per cent in 2023, according to the World Bank. The pace of contraction is on track to be more than double that seen during wars in Yemen and Syria.

Moreover, infrastructure has been badly damaged, supply lines have broken down and the formal banking system has crumbled, leaving many salaries unpaid. Nearly half the population is unemployed, according to the International Monetary Fund. Prices have risen sharply in many areas, while blackouts blamed on the warring parties and network outages have hampered mobile payments that many rely on.

Death toll rises as clashes continue in Sudan – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

An estimated 11m Sudanese need urgent health assistance, but 70 per cent of health facilities in conflict-affected areas are shut or only partially functional, according to the World Health Organisation. Disease is spreading, says the health ministry, with over 11,000 suspected cases of cholera — more than 300 people have already died — reported in 11 of Sudan’s 18 states. Outbreaks of measles, malaria and dengue fever are ongoing in several states.

According to Save the Children, around 19m children risk losing out on their education because of the war. One in two children, 10m in total, have been in an active warzone over the past year, says the NGO.

Aid agencies claim that the army restricts access for humanitarian relief, and what little gets through is at risk of looting in RSF-controlled areas. Both sides have denied impeding aid efforts.

Due to fighting and other blocks on access, just one in 10 of those facing emergency levels of hunger have access to assistance. Volunteer-run “emergency rooms” linked to the pro-democracy networks from Sudan’s 2018-19 uprising have tried to provide minimal food rations and keep some basic services running.

Now the aid agencies are seeking $2.7 billion from donors to provide relief to 14.7m people in urgent need of help in Sudan this year. To date, less than six per cent of that amount has been raised. The UN refugee agency is seeking $1.4bn to help people who have fled to five neighbouring countries.

READ: Are Iran drones turning the tide of Sudan civil war?

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.