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Malaz feeds her two-year-old Aida ready-to-use-therapeutic food at her home in Kassala State. During the mass mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) screening and referral for children under five, Aida was confirmed severely malnourished. She was very weak and immediately referred to Al-Arab health facility for treatment. (Photo: Ahmed Elfatih Mohamdeen/UNICEF)Malaz feeds her two-year-old Aida ready-to-use-therapeutic food at her home in Kassala State. During the mass mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) screening and referral for children under five, Aida was confirmed severely malnourished. She was very weak and immediately referred to Al-Arab health facility for treatment. (Photo: Ahmed Elfatih Mohamdeen/UNICEF)Malaz feeds her two-year-old Aida ready-to-use-therapeutic food at her home in Kassala State. During the mass mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) screening and referral for children under five, Aida was confirmed severely malnourished. She was very weak and immediately referred to Al-Arab health facility for treatment. (Photo: Ahmed Elfatih Mohamdeen/UNICEF)

Hunger in Sudan: How (and why) hundreds of thousands are facing famine

Hunger in Sudan: How (and why) hundreds of thousands are facing famine
Story8 July 2024

A little over a year in, the conflict in Sudan has created, among other things, what is now the world’s largest hunger crisis. 

Over 25 million people (more than half of the country’s population) are facing high levels of food insecurity according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), which also estimates that 14 areas of the country are facing famine or famine-like conditions.

Read on for what that means, how we got here, and everything else you need to know about the current hunger crisis in Sudan. 

Sudan is facing its highest levels of hunger on record

Per the IPC (one of the main reporting organisations on world hunger and food insecurity), Sudan “is facing the worst levels of acute food insecurity ever recorded by the IPC in the country.” Between now and September 2024 – which coincides with the lean season between harvests – IPC analysts estimate that over half of the country’s population is facing Crisis-level food shortages (or worse). 

This includes 755,000 people across 10 of the country’s 18 states facing Catastrophe-level hunger, which in IPC terminology means famine or famine-like conditions. These areas of extreme hunger are located in all five states of Greater Darfur, as well as South and North Kordofan, Blue Nile, Al Jazirah, and Khartoum. An additional 8.5 million people are facing Emergency-level food shortages (a classification between Crisis and Catastrophe on the IPC scale). 

Muzdalifa a mother and a UNICEF-trained member of the Mother Support Group trains mothers on proper feeding practices for children via a cooking demonstration. (Photo: Ahmed Elfatih Mohamdeen/UNICEF)
Muzdalifa a mother and a UNICEF-trained member of the Mother Support Group trains mothers on proper feeding practices for children via a cooking demonstration. (Photo: Ahmed Elfatih Mohamdeen/UNICEF)

How did it get so bad?

Hunger was an issue in Sudan even before conflict broke out in April 2023. At the end of 2019, approximately 5.9 million Sudanese were facing chronic hunger. An estimated 80% of all stunted children lived in just 14 countries. This included Sudan, where extreme poverty, inadequate feeding practices, and the effects of climate change were key drivers for high malnutrition rates, leaving just over 14% of all Sudanese children under the age of five acutely malnourished. 

The knock-on effects of the early years of the pandemic didn’t help matters. Border closures affected the supply chains for staples like wheat and vegetable oil, a problem for a country that relies on imports for roughly 25% of its essential food supplies. Emergency supplies were quickly depleted, and many of the most vulnerable Sudanese lost or saw drastic reductions to their incomes and livelihoods as a result of closures and inflation. The situation worsened in 2022, following the invasion of Ukraine (Sudan relied on both Russia and Ukraine for some of its essentials, including wheat). 

At the end of 2022, one year into a shift in political leadership and amid ongoing instability and uncertainty, the IPC estimated that as many as 11.7 million people were facing food insecurity. This represented a nearly 100% increase in hunger levels pre-pandemic, and a 225% increase compared to 2016, which had the lowest levels of recorded food insecurity in Sudan over the last decade.

IPC food insecurity levels in Sudan (millions), 2013 – 2024
IPC food insecurity levels in Sudan (millions), 2013 – 2024

How conflict doubled the hunger rates

The crisis in Sudan escalated on April 15, 2023, with violent clashes between rival factions in the capital of Khartoum sparking a nationwide conflict and massive displacement, both within Sudan and in neighbouring Chad.

For those who have remained in Sudan, food shortages have become a fact of life. The Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that food production fell by 46% in the first year of the conflict as people were driven from their homes or unable to safely work their farms (agriculture accounts for 80% of employment in Sudan). Food processing factories ceased operations due to the war, and the only factory in the country that produced lifesaving ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), the standard treatment for childhood malnutrition, was destroyed. 

Two-year-old Aida is screened for malnutrition during the mass mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) screening and referral for children under five in River Nile State. Aida is severely malnourished, very weak and requires immediate treatment. Photo: Ahmed Elfatih Mohamdeen/UNICEF
Two-year-old Aida is screened for malnutrition during the mass mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) screening and referral for children under five in River Nile State. Aida is severely malnourished, very weak and requires immediate treatment. Photo: Ahmed Elfatih Mohamdeen/UNICEF

Fighting has been especially intense in Darfur and Al Jazirah, the region known as Sudan’s bread basket. Adding insult to injury, forecasts for 2024 suggest that the rainfall will be below-average this year in the country, further impacting crops, livestock, and the availability of water. Humanitarian access has also been limited by violence. 

The World Food Programme warns that Sudan is unable to afford to import enough food to cover the shortage due to hyperinflation, and we are now seeing that play out in the country’s lean season, which began in May and is expected to continue through September. What food is available in the country is likewise too expensive for many of the most vulnerable Sudanese families (particularly those displaced by conflict). 

“People are selling off their assets to buy food for their families. Supplies to commercial markets have been disrupted by the fighting. Many people are now totally reliant on aid in order to have just one meal a day,” explains Concern Sudan country director, Dr Farooq Khan.

People are selling off their assets to buy food for their families. Supplies to commercial markets have been disrupted by the fighting. Many people are now totally reliant on aid in order to have just one meal a day.

Dr Farooq Khan - Country director, Concern Sudan
Dijda in her home in a refugee camp in Chad
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It’s not just about the food

Food security is a key focus in mitigating the effects of the conflict in Sudan. However, this is just one piece of the puzzle. Healthcare facilities have also faced attacks in the last 15 months. As malnutrition rates continue to rise, this means that many Sudanese (especially children) will face an additional challenge: receiving adequate medical care. 

“We continue to face challenges in the movement of goods and staff into and across the country,” says Amina Abdulla, Concern’s regional director for Horn of Africa. “It is only a matter of time before we run out of supplies in the various health facilities that we support and services come to a halt despite the ever-increasing levels of needs across the country.”

“The 90 clinics we are supporting are under stress,” adds Dr Khan. 

A clinic supported by Concern and UNICEF in Ardamata, Sudan (30 mins from west Darfur). The neighborhood was the scene of intensive fighting in early November of 2023, a week before this photo was taken; the violence extended to civilians and infrastructure such as this healthcare centre.
A clinic supported by Concern and UNICEF in Ardamata, Sudan (30 mins from west Darfur). The neighborhood was the scene of intensive fighting in early November of 2023, a week before this photo was taken; the violence extended to civilians and infrastructure such as this healthcare centre. (Photo: Concern Worldwide)

Conservative estimates are still staggering

In a world overrun by conflict and crisis, humanitarian agencies are wary of making hyperbolic statements. However, in a March 20 2024 speech to the Security Council, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Edem Wosornu warned of “a far-reaching and fast-deteriorating situation of food insecurity in Sudan.” At the one-year mark for the conflict, 18 million people were facing high levels (Crisis, Emergency, or Catastrophe-level) of food insecurity. 

Just three months later, those projected insecurity rates have risen by more than 40%. Dr Khan says that even this may be a conservative estimate: “From the feedback we are receiving, the IPC could be under-reporting the situation by 5-10%.” 

Because some areas are completely inaccessible to NGOs, Dr Khan adds that some areas may already be experiencing famine-like conditions (a famine must be declared by the IPC — usually in conjunction with a national government). Regardless of the label we give it, however, the net effect is the same: Over three-quarters of a million people, if not more, will face extreme food shortages, which will result in heightened fatalities (especially for children).

Hunger in Sudan: What can be done?

At the moment, the two biggest challenges to the hunger crisis in Sudan are political and financial. However, that doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless. 

“Despite insecurity, complex and costly logistics, and bureaucratic impediments hindering the international response, communities and humanitarian organisations are responding — and much more can be done if the resources are provided,” says Dr Khan. 

Concern is calling on UN member states, especially those on the Security Council and with the greatest influence in the region, to use their power in calling for an immediate ceasefire and safe access for humanitarian organisations to reach civilian communities in need of assistance. Without a cessation of hostilities and a peaceful and negotiated political solution to the conflict, humanitarian need will continue to grow — especially surrounding hunger, health, and nutrition. 

“Accessibility to impacted communities and an uninterrupted supply of essential health and nutrition commodities are our key issues at this stage, if widespread famine is to be prevented and lives saved,” says Dr Khan.

However, access and political action can only go so far. The UN’s 2024 humanitarian response plan for Sudan was only 6% funded. Of the $2.7 billion USD needed to meet the most baseline, dire needs in 2024, funding was just $135 million. “It is unacceptable at a time when famine is looming,” says Dr Khan. “Nobody should die of hunger due to a lack of funding, while waiting for peace.” A conference in Paris this past April saw donors commit to an additional $2 billion in funding; however these funds have yet to be fully disbursed. 

Sudanese refugees in Chad provided with essential items
Concern and other NGOs are constructing shelters, latrines, water systems and basic health services at a refugee camp in eastern Chad. Photo: Audrey Hernandez/Concern Worldwide

The crisis in Sudan: Concern’s response

Concern has been in Sudan for nearly 40 years (including in West Darfur and South Kordofan), in that time reaching hundreds of thousands of people — all of whom are more than both the past and present conflicts affecting them. 

While Concern’s team in Sudan have also faced challenges of safety and logistics, many of our team members have stayed on, responding to the needs of their compatriots. We have been able to respond to an ever-changing situation and ensure that help is going where it’s needed most. In the first nine months of the conflict (April - December 2023), we reached over 346,000 people with lifesaving support. 

Since the conflict escalated in April 2023, almost 11,000 children under the age of five have been treated for acute or severe malnutrition at one of the 90 clinics Concern is supporting in Sudan. In addition to supporting clinics, Concern is also procuring and distributing food, including cereals, pulses, sorghum, dried vegetables, and cooking oil. We also provide emergency cash payments to those who have no source of income, and are working with families to build their resilience and generate income even in the most dire circumstances.

We are also responding to the influx of Sudanese refugees in neighbouring Chad (where we’ve worked for 17 years) and South Sudan (where we’ve worked for 13 years). 

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