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On The Emerging Hunger Crisis in Sudan

In 2019, the number of people facing acute food insecurity in Sudan was 5.8 million. Today, that number has reached 20.3 million, nearly half of the population, and is continuing to rise. 

In April of 2023, conflict between rival sectors of Sudan’s military, the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) began to arise. One year in, a full-blown civil war has emerged, leaving a tragic trail of human rights abuses. As the violence continues, the fear of Sudanese men, women and children is that the country is at risk of a full-fledged famine.  As of March 15th, 2024, the UN Security Council was officially put on notice that the conflict in Sudan has begat a downward spiral into the world’s largest hunger crisis. 


Sudan, a country renowned for its rich cultural diversity and historical significance, bears deep scars from a tumultuous past marred by internal conflicts. To grasp the complexities of Sudan’s present discord, one must delve into its colonial history. From the early 20th century, Sudan was under the joint colonization of England and Egypt. Following independence, a struggle for power and resources unfolded, highlighting the fault line between the Arab-Muslim north and the predominantly non-Arab, Christian south.

The fledgling nation’s early governments grappled with the challenge of reconciling the diverse religious interests of its populace, sparking conflicts and discontent. These formative years sowed the seeds of the first Sudanese Civil War, characterized by struggles over ethnic, religious, and economic disparities.

Sudan’s first civil war began shortly after Sudan gained independence from British and Egyptian colonial rule in 1956. The conflict was primarily between the central government in Khartoum and marginalized regions, particularly Southern Sudan. The roots of the conflict can be traced back to colonial policies that favored the north over the south, exacerbating existing ethnic, religious, and economic divisions. The north, dominated by Arab Muslims, was favored in terms of development, political power, and resource allocation, while the south, inhabited by non-Arab Africans, was largely neglected.

The first civil war in Sudan laid the groundwork for subsequent conflicts and has had lasting impacts on the country, including the current conflict dynamics. While the first civil war officially ended with the signing of the Addis Ababa Agreement in 1972, many of the underlying issues that fueled the conflict were not fully addressed, leading to continued instability and further violence in Sudan. In April 2023, these unresolved issues erupted between rival armed factions in Khartoum, marking a return to full-scale civil strife.

At the heart of the conflict lies a power struggle between the leaders of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the formidable paramilitary group, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan leads the SAF, while Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo heads the RSF, both vying for control over the state and its resources.

Pressure from foreign governments and human rights organizations influenced the SAF and RSF to resume negotiations, mediated by the United States and Saudi Arabia, in late October 2023. However, neither side committed to halting violence during talks. Previous negotiation attempts earlier that year faltered as ceasefire agreements were not honored by the warring factions. In early May, negotiations collapsed after the SAF withdrew from talks.

As the conflict escalates, living conditions deteriorate, and the prospect of a much-awaited democratic transition fades. Continued violence set the stage for one of the gravest humanitarian crises of the past decade. 

Hunger Crisis

Since the eruption of conflict between Sudan’s Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in April 2023, both factions have imposed restrictions on aid delivery, access, and distribution. In regions where emergency levels of hunger affect ninety percent of Sudan’s population, the World Food Programme faces significant obstacles due to inaccessibility. UNICEF executive director Catherine Russell states that “communities in Sudan teeter on the edge of famine due to our inability to reach many vulnerable individuals.”

In February of this year, Sudan’s military leader, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, declared a halt to aid reaching RSF-controlled areas. Aid organizations consistently report SAF interference with aid delivery in these zones, encountering bureaucratic hurdles, delays, movement restrictions, harassment, and outright bans on certain supplies. Just weeks ago on March 4th, Sudan’s foreign affairs minister announced further restrictions, opposing cross-border aid from Chad to RSF-controlled territories. Subsequently, Sudan informed the UN on March 6 of new restrictions on cross-border permissions, apart from permitted specific crossings under military-aligned control. Authorities have also obstructed aid to RSF areas, effectively imposing an aid blockade since at least November 2023.

Limited funding further exacerbates the difficulty of aid operations, with the UN’s appeal to implement more aid to Sudan was only 5% funded by the end of February.  Widespread looting, including a December 2023 incident where RSF fighters raided a World Food Programme warehouse in the city Wad Madani meant to feed 1.5 million people hinder aid operations. Furthermore, attacks on aid workers, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, have also created barriers to aid.

The consequences of the arising famine and food insecurity in Sudan are severe and multifaceted. Food insecurity has exacerbated an already dire humanitarian crisis leaving millions of people in urgent need of assistance, shelter, healthcare and other services. The famine is forcing people to flee from their country of origin into neighboring countries such as Ethiopia or into marginally safer parts of the country. These displaced populations often lose access to their farmland, livestock, and other means of livelihood, leading to increased vulnerability to food insecurity. Many internally displaced persons and refugees are facing unimaginable suffering and rely on humanitarian aid for survival but are struggling to receive the help they need.

In the capital city, Khartoum, a communications blackout forced the suspension of communal kitchens run by Sudanese emergency response rooms, leaving many without food and reports of hunger-related deaths. This crisis marks the first time Sudan has triggered such an alert to the UN Security Council, prompting pledges from Guyana, Switzerland, the US, and other members to prioritize combating food insecurity. Crisis advocacy director at the Human Rights Watch, Akshaya Kumar urges Security Council members to take decisive action, advocating for open discussions to devise a plan preventing mass starvation in Sudan and proposing targeted sanctions against those impeding aid. He emphasizes the urgent need for tangible support. The people of Sudan require more than just words – they need food. 

What’s Next? 

As Sudan devolves into a worsening humanitarian crisis with each passing day, blameless citizens will pay the ultimate price. The number of people displaced by conflict since April 15th both inside and outside of Sudan has reached over eight million. Children are proving the most prominent victims of the crisis with Sudan facing the largest displacement crisis of adolescents with a recorded three million children fleeing in search of food and safety. With expectations of a reduced upcoming harvest, prices of staple food are likely to remain abnormally high in the harvest season. The situation is expected to deteriorate throughout 2024, driving further displacement and starvation among the region. The international community of NGOs and more stable states should come to the consensus that a failing state and an horrific humanitarian crisis is in no one’s best interest and should work to create properly-funded and legitimate interventionist aid missions. Food is a lifeline and these upcoming months are crucial to prevent further deterioration of the food insecurity crisis and save the lives of countless Sudanese people through effective aid operations. 

Features Image Source: Bronx Papers

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