Millions of people have been forced to flee their homes in Sudan due to the ongoing conflict. © UNOCHA/Ala Kheir - Photo: 2024

Sudan Will Soon Be the World’s Worst Hunger Crisis

By Edem Wosornu

The author is Director of Operations and Advocacy of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Following are extensive excerpts from his Briefing to the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Sudan.

NEW YORK | 21 March 2024 (IDN) — In resolution 2417, you asked the Secretary-General to report swiftly to you when the risk of conflict-induced famine and widespread food insecurity arose in armed conflict.

We are here today to warn you of a far-reaching and fast-deteriorating situation of food insecurity in Sudan—a situation driven by 11 months of brutal and unremitting conflict.

The harrowing levels of violence in this conflict have taken a horrendous toll on civilians.

In its report of 23 February, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights relates appalling accounts of sexual violence and ethnic-based attacks that have taken place so far across conflict hotspots.

It is truly the stuff of nightmares. There are reports of mass graves, gang rapes, shockingly indiscriminate attacks in densely populated areas and many more horrors. The High Commissioner for Human Rights has warned that at least some of these acts of horror may amount to war crimes.

In Khartoum, Darfur, and Kordofan—which are home to 90 per cent of people facing emergency levels of acute food insecurity—there has been no respite from the fierce fighting for 340 days.

Hostilities have resulted in extensive damage, looting and widespread destruction of critical infrastructure, including food and nutrition manufacturing facilities—once the pride of Sudan.

In May 2023, a factory in Khartoum that produced 60 per cent of Sudan’s life-saving ready-to-use therapeutic food was destroyed. This factory served hundreds of thousands of children.

Farmers have been forced to abandon their farmlands, as they have fled to protect their children and families.

And in December last year, hostilities moved into Sudan’s breadbasket, Aj Jazirah State, which accounts for almost half of the country’s wheat production.

National cereal production has dropped by almost half since last year. And the supply of animal-sourced food, such as milk, has plummeted, contributing to spiralling levels of malnutrition—with 730,000 children currently suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

Meanwhile, the conflict has driven up prices of basic food commodities by a staggering 83 per cent compared to the pre-crisis period.

By all measures—the sheer scale of humanitarian needs, the numbers of people displaced and facing hunger—Sudan is one of the worst humanitarian disasters in recent memory.

The conflict has already precipitated the world’s largest internal displacement crisis: 6.5 million people have been displaced within the country since the start of the current crisis, adding to the 3 million already displaced before 15 April 2023. A further 1.8 million people have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.

Now, as the conflict rages on, Sudan is on course to become the world’s worst hunger crisis. Already, 18 million people—more than one third of the country’s population—are facing acute food insecurity.

By the time the lean season arrives in May, people in some parts of Darfur could face what we term IPC Phase 5 level acute food insecurity. We call this stage catastrophe.

Malnutrition is soaring to alarming levels and is already claiming children’s lives. A recent assessment revealed that one child is dying every two hours in Zamzam camp in El Fasher, North Darfur.

Our humanitarian partners estimate that in the coming weeks and months, somewhere in the region of around 222,000 children could die from malnutrition.

And with the World Health Organization estimating that more than 70 per cent of health facilities are not functional, children who are already malnourished are at even greater risk of dying from preventable diseases.

It seems utterly unfathomable that this tragedy could be allowed to happen. It keeps us all up at night. And will do so for a long time.

In such a situation, the delivery of humanitarian aid should be a lifeline to the millions of people who have lost almost everything to the conflict.  Let me zero in on humanitarians’ ability to access people in need at this time.

Regrettably, our ability to reach the most vulnerable, most notably in Khartoum, Darfur, Kordofan and Aj Jazirah States, continues to be severely obstructed.

Earlier this month, you adopted a resolution calling for full and unhindered humanitarian access in Sudan. Since then, I regret to report that there has not been major progress on the ground.

We do welcome that after revoking their agreement to the cross-border operation from Chad, the Sudanese authorities announced on 5 March alternative routes including temporary access via Tine crossing. The procedures for the use of this crossing are yet to be elaborated or put in place.

On 14 March, the Sudanese authorities informed us of their decision to allow the entry of 60 trucks through Adre, Chad into West Darfur. A convoy of trucks with assistance, including food for over 175,000 people, is being prepared and should be deployed in the coming two to three days.

These are positive steps, but they are far from enough in the face of looming famine.

At a minimum, identified entry points must be made operational as soon as possible and kept open for as long as they are needed—one-off arrangements are not sufficient.

We also need immediate approvals to facilitate the crossline movement of supplies from Port Sudan. We have not been able to cross conflict lines into parts of Khartoum since October 2023 due to insecurity and lack of timely approvals.

Finally, the parties must protect humanitarian staff and supplies. This is crucial to our ability to deliver lifesaving assistance and address this escalating hunger crisis.

In just one incident in Wad Medani, Aj Jazirah State, in December last year, armed actors looted a warehouse containing food supplies. This attack – in areas controlled by the Rapid Support Forces – affected supplies that could have fed 1.5 million acutely food-insecure people for one whole month.

A humanitarian travesty is playing out in Sudan under a veil of international inattention and inaction.

Simply put, we are failing the people of Sudan.

The upcoming high-level conference for Sudan and its neighbours in Paris on 15 April is an indispensable opportunity to make tangible commitments to support the aid operation and address the suffering—including through increased financial contributions for the 2024 humanitarian appeal for Sudan. Out of $2.7 billion needed, less than 5 per cent have been received—$131 million.

The White Note that we recently submitted to this Council sets out recommendations on urgent steps to address the escalating food insecurity crisis.

These include:

  1. Ensuring that the parties respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, including the prohibition of the use of starvation as a method of warfare and the protection of vital goods, infrastructure and services needed for food systems and production.
  2. Ensuring that the parties commit to sustained humanitarian dialogue to facilitate crossline and cross-border humanitarian access.
  3. Scaling up funding for the humanitarian operation, and
  4. Pressing for an immediate ceasefire and a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

The reporting process under resolution 2417, and these recommendations, are only as good as the action taken on them.

Since the conflict broke out on 15 April, this is the eighth briefing OCHA delivers to the Council on the humanitarian situation in Sudan. It is the second time in the last month.

As we approach the one-year anniversary of the conflict, we cannot make clearer the desperation that civilians are facing in Sudan.

We cannot explain in greater terms the catastrophic [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo: Millions of people have been forced to flee their homes in Sudan due to the ongoing conflict. © UNOCHA/Ala Kheir

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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