Conflict escalation in Sudan to push more people into food insecurity
The violence in Sudan threatens to deepen the humanitarian crisis in a country that was already struggling. Prior to this outbreak, 15.8 million people, 30% of the country’s population, were already in need of humanitarian assistance, and over 11 million acutely food insecure – unable to access nutritious and sufficient food -.
Since fighting escalated on April 15, food prices have doubled, and movement is increasingly restricted. It is becoming even more difficult for the population to access food and water. The World Food Programme has warned that fighting in Sudan could further plunge millions more into hunger.
Sudan’s violence and threats to aid workers put at risk the protection of civilians and their access to basic needs.
Action Against Hunger has been working in Sudan since 2017, carrying out humanitarian aid focused on nutrition and food security, along with emergency response. Currently, humanitarian aid workers and members of the international community are being targeted. To date, five humanitarian workers have been killed, according to the United Nations. Humanitarian activities have been interrupted, with many reports of looting humanitarian assets, which makes it even harder to provide assistance for the affected populations, as well as the coverage of people’s basic needs, such as food and water.
Evacuation operations of international staff and their families from many foreign countries are ongoing. After he was evacuated, Reza Mohammadi, Financial Coordinator of Action Against Hunger in Sudan, could only express his concern for those who are staying: “My family and I feel safe now, but we cannot stop thinking about our national colleagues and their families.” Rafiullah Tariq, Head of the MEAL Department in Action Against Hunger in Sudan, added that “our thoughts are for all our national colleagues who are suffering from this unjustified war.”
Action Against Hunger is concerned about the situation once evacuations end as well as the safety and wellbeing of our national staff remaining in the country, instrumental to resume aid operations as soon as the situation allows. Paloma Martin, Action Against Hunger Coordinator for Africa, shares that “we will continue working, with much more strength, for the Sudanese people to move forward. An African proverb says that when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. What the proverb does not say is that the grass grows back, and in some places so strongly that the ground cannot be seen”.
Conflict and climatic shocks: key drivers of food insecurity
An estimated 50,000 acutely malnourished children in Sudan have had treatment disrupted due to the conflict, according to WHO data. Most food insecure people, as well as 75% of all chronically malnourished children under the age of five, live in countries affected by armed conflict and violence. Conflict remains the primary driver of global food insecurity.
This is coupled with dry spells, floods, and disease outbreaks. Prolonged droughts, erratic rains and subsequent crop failure have led to a deteriorated food security situation. In 2021, when Sudan’s armed forces launched a military coup, food insecurity prevalence in some states of the country were as high as 65% in West Darfur, 59% in Central Darfur, and 56% in North Darfur. Rates of malnutrition were increasing across Sudan at a concerning rate, especially among children, with approximately 3 million under five suffering from malnutrition annually, according to UNICEF.
Sudanese solidarity at display yet human suffering continues to deepen.
El Fateh Edis Edris Eisa, Head of Base of Action Against Hunger in the Blue Nile, says that “the situation here is calm but there is fear within people due to what is going on in Khartoum. People do not know what will happen next.”
Over 400 people have been killed and at least 4,000 have been injured. Many are fleeing violence on foot. According to IOM and UNHCR figures, nearly 4,000 people have been registered moving from Sudan to South Sudan, 20,000 to Chad, which is already home to more than 400,000 Sudanese refugees. The UNHCR estimates the numbers could increase to 270,000 people, and that excluding those who are trying to find refuge in other countries than South Sudan and Chad.
There are also those who are fleeing violence but are staying in Sudan. According to the Head of Base of Action Againt Hunger in the While Nile, “thousands of people are arriving from Khartoum. Some are taking refuge in schools and mosques”.
Sudanese people are helping those who are fleeing hotspots of the conflict. An international humanitarian worker evacuating from Sudan, whose identity is not shared due to security reasons, said that “on our way from Khartoum to Gedared, we saw many villagers offering water and food to people leaving Khartoum. These people are amazing. I hope we can get back on our feet so we can continue to serve and work together.”
Why is fighting happening now in Sudan?
The conflict erupted on 15 April after negotiations over the formulation for a transition towards a civilian government stalled. In December 2022, after months of negotiation, Sudan’s military and civilian leaders signed a preliminary deal to end the military rule that has governed the country since October 2021. A final deal was due to be signed earlier in April, on the fourth anniversary of the overthrow of long-ruling Omar al-Bashir in a popular uprising. Both the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) were required to cede power, which provoked tensions.
A 72-hour ceasefire was agreed on April 25 between the warring parties after mediation from the United States and Saudi Arabia. However, Action Against Hunger staff in Khartoum say that “ceasefire was respected during the first day, but it is not being respected anymore. There is heavy shooting and air bombardments.”.
Action Against Hunger urges parties to the conflict and the international community to take the following measures:
- - We call on the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) to guarantee the protection of civilians and welcome ongoing regional and international efforts for the permanent cessation of hostilities in the short term whilst also looking into a durable, long-term solution. It is key that both sides avoid the impact of violence on civilian populations notably by allowing access to humanitarian assistance.
- - We urge both parties to take all possible measures to avoid harm to civilians, civilian structures and to humanitarian workers. The humanitarian space must be preserved to enable safe and timely response. We deplore the recent killing of humanitarian staff in Darfur as well the attacks on critical civilian infrastructures such as health facilities. It is also important to protect critical infrastructure such as water, telecommunications, and electricity services. Ensuring the proper functioning of markets is vital for populations to cover basic needs as well as to manage the increasing prices of staple foods.
- - We welcome the recent, albeit intermittent, cessation of hostilities and call on all parties to the conflict to maintain humanitarian corridors/pauses or cessation of hostilities to enable civilians to find safety, access basic services as well as critical humanitarian assistance. We urge both parties to guarantee that humanitarian organizations have free and unimpeded access to assess communities’ needs, replenish supplies, and deliver aid swiftly and effectively.
- - We call also on the international community to consider the humanitarian impact of any political measures to be taken on parties to the conflict. For instance, if international or regional sanctions are imposed, it is imperative to ensure that humanitarian actions and actors are exempted to guarantee that the swift and effective delivery of humanitarian aid is not impacted.
- - We also recall the international community that prior to the ongoing crisis, Sudan was facing a dire humanitarian situation with 15.8 million people, 30% of the population, forecasted to need humanitarian assistance in 2023; and yet barely 14% of the humanitarian appeal was covered. We are currently deeply concerned that this violence may lead to the rapid and dramatic deterioration of the humanitarian situation and urge the international actors to anticipate these needs and swiftly mobilize the necessary resources to save lives and protect affected communities.