With all eyes on the unfolding catastrophe in Gaza, the world must not look away as conflict and atrocities in Sudan put the lives of millions—including children—at risk. The conflict in Sudan, now in its seventh month, is fast becoming a famine crisis. The United States and other donor countries must act urgently to avert a potential famine. Millions of lives are at risk, and the conditions will reverberate throughout the region.
The conflict in Sudan between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces, which began in April, has exacerbated the country’s already precarious humanitarian crisis. The fighting has forced a million people from their homes each month. Before the conflict, a third of the people in Sudan were in need of humanitarian aid. In the last year, that number has nearly doubled. According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), the standard tool for measuring levels of hunger, more than 20 million people (about the population of New York) across Sudan—or almost half of the population—face severe food insecurity. This includes 6 million people (about twice the population of Arkansas) on the brink of famine. According to Unicef, 55,000 children require treatment for the most deadly form of malnutrition.
The tragedy of mass child hunger today in Sudan is already horrifying. But without immediate action, the worst is yet to come. The Sudanese conflict also impacts food insecurity for regional countries, notably Chad and South Sudan, which rely on Sudan’s capital Khartoum—the epicentre of the fighting—as a transit hub. The conflict has disrupted the agriculture supply chain in Sudan. The three broad regions experiencing food insecurity—Khartoum state, Greater Darfur, and Greater Kordofan—are, unsurprisingly, the regions of the country experiencing the highest concentration of conflict.
The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordination, Martin Griffiths, recently described Sudan’s crisis a “humanitarian emergency of epic proportions” because of hunger. Despite this stark warning, international donors have not stepped up. Since the outbreak of conflict in April, and despite its severity, the Sudanese humanitarian crisis has received little diplomatic attention and funding. The UN's Sudan Humanitarian Response Plan appeal requested $2.57 billion and is only 32 per cent funded. Meanwhile, the World Food Program (WFP) is dealing with global funding constraints and expanded food insecurity that has, unfortunately, already led to cuts in cash assistance and food aid to dozens of countries.
$163 million in new humanitarian funding
Sudan needs more support. While the United States remains the largest humanitarian donor in the response, most recently adding $163 million in new humanitarian funding, the US and other donors still need to increase emergency food aid alongside investments in resilience for those inside Sudan and the region. As we enter Fiscal Year 2024, which began on October 1, 2023, the US funding landscape remains challenging. The US Congress has not completed the regular appropriations process for Fiscal Year 2024, including for bills that include food assistance and humanitarian accounts. The uncertainty in programming planning will likely impact new funding announcements, even for more recent emergencies. Sudan is suffering as a result.
For decades, Sudan has been a challenging operating environment for humanitarian agencies. The country’s descent into civil war has pushed this environment to the extreme. The denial of humanitarian access and the targeting of aid workers have made matters worse. In August, the World Food Program country director for Sudan said he had “never faced an operating environment as challenging,” as Sudan, amid the deaths of at least 19 humanitarian workers and attacks on medical facilities and humanitarian supplies.
The US and other countries of influence must also pressure the warring parties to allow access and cease violations of international humanitarian law. Donors must push back on attacks on aid workers and denial of access. Donor agencies must put in place a robust monitoring and evaluation framework to prevent the parties from using the aid at the expense of the people in need. In addition, local Sudanese groups have been on the front line since the conflict began, delivering aid under difficult circumstances. They should be included in any large-scale humanitarian aid delivery.
Unless donors step up the humanitarian and diplomatic efforts, including steps to prevent the misuse of aid, Sudan and the wider region will witness more suffering and starvation. Not for lack of knowledge but for lack of political will.
Abdullahi Halakhe is the senior advocate for east and southern Africa at Refugees International, and Ann Hollingsworth serves as senior director of government relations and senior policy advisor at Refugees International.