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Sudan Humanitarian Crisis

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Sudan’s complex humanitarian crisis is rooted in decades of internal conflict, political instability, extreme weather events and poor economic conditions that have contributed to widespread food insecurity, malnutrition and a lack of basic services, especially health services. While these issues have resulted in millions of internally displaced Sudanese, Sudan also hosts refugees from South Sudan and Ethiopia.

On April 15, fighting broke out between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), led by Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), led by Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (known as “Hemedti”). Although they united in an October 2021 coup to seize power and have worked together against the pro-democracy movement since then, “Their tenuous alliance ended in mid-April, when they turned their guns on each other, sparking a conflict that threatens to engulf African’s third largest country.”

RSF’s origins are rooted in the Janjaweed militia that carried out ethnic cleansing in Darfur. The RSF seems to be hiding in urban areas, so much of the conflict is happening in densely populated areas and is impacting civilians.

After almost eight weeks of fighting, a tenuous ceasefire ended on June 3, and fighting resumed between the army and the RSF. The ceasefire was brokered by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia but was repeatedly broken in the two weeks it was in place (May 22 to June 3). It allowed limited humanitarian aid and support to be provided during that time. On Friday, June 2, talks to extend the ceasefire stalled. Although the U.S. and Saudi Arabia remain committed to the process, neither the RSF nor the army will return to the table.

Since April 15, at least 1.4 million have been displaced internally within Sudan, and nearly 500,000 have fled to neighboring countries, including Egypt, Chad and Ethiopia.

(Photo: People fleeing violence in Sudan. Credit: USAID Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance Lead via Twitter)

Located in northeast Africa, Sudan lies at the intersection of the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa. It borders the Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Libya and South Sudan. Sudan has faced numerous historic issues that have left a legacy in the country. The issues stem from exploitation after it was colonized by Britain and Egypt in the late 19th century. During this period, Sudanese people were subjected to various forms of exploitation, including forced labor, land confiscation and cultural suppression.

Over the past few decades, Sudan has been plagued by multiple civil wars. The First Sudanese Civil War was from 1955-1972, and about half a million people were killed. Despite a peace agreement in 1972, tensions continued. The Second Sudanese Civil War (and the longest of these conflicts) was fought from 1983 to 2005 between the government and the southern rebels, who were fighting for greater autonomy and control over resources. This conflict lasted for more than 20 years and resulted in the deaths of an estimated two million people. The war also led to the independence of South Sudan in 2011.

In 2003, the Darfur genocide began when government-backed militias targeted non-Arab civilians in the Darfur region. This conflict resulted in the displacement of millions of people and the deaths of hundreds of thousands. While the conflict was technically resolved with a peace deal in 2020, violence in the area continues today.

Colonel Omar al-Bashir, who carried out a military coup in 1989 and appointed himself president in 1993, was ousted by the army in 2019.  From 2019-2021, “a deal to negotiate power-sharing between the transitional government and the civilians who led the protests against Bashir” was in progress. The goal was to help transition Sudan to a democratic government, but this was interrupted by another coup in October 2021.

Since the coup in October 2021, when Sudan’s military, led by General al-Burhan (and supported by General Daglo), seized power from the transitional government, there has been significant political instability in the country. Additionally, a socioeconomic crisis has affected nearly a quarter of the population. It is characterized by high inflation rates and currency depreciation, and food insecurity. Intercommunal clashes and violence in some areas of the country, especially in the Darfur and Kordofan regions, also contributed to the high numbers of internal and cross-border displacements. Billions of dollars in international support and debt relief were paused after the 2021 coup, worsening the economic crisis and humanitarian situation in the country.

Even before the latest fighting, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said in their Sudan Humanitarian Snapshot released on April 5, “Localized conflict and insecurity continue to displace thousands of people and disrupt lives in parts of Sudan.”

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Key facts
  • According to UN OCHA in Sudan’s 2023 Humanitarian Needs Overview, “the four most significant risks identified are conflict, disasters associated with natural hazards, disease outbreaks, and economic deterioration.”
  • At least 15.8 million people – one-third of the country’s population – were in need of humanitarian assistance as of January 2023, which is an increase from 14.3 million in 2022. However, recent events and increased military actions have dramatically increased the number of people needing support. In the revised Humanitarian Response Plan, 24.7 million people were identified as being in need, and 18.1 million are targeted in the plan. In the prior plan, 57% of people in need were women, 55% were children and 15% had disabilities.
  • A severe flooding season between May–September 2022 (typically between June–September) affected 16 out of 18 states in Sudan. Over 100,000 people were displaced due to this flooding.
  • Sudan hosts more than 1.14 million refugees, and 4.1 million people are displaced within the country. About 400,000 people were newly displaced in 2022 in Sudan due to conflict and disasters, including the above-mentioned flooding, as well as wildfires. Most of that displacement (30.6%) was in the Blue Nile region, followed by West Darfur (22.8%) and South Darfur (11.2%).
  • According to IOM, from April 15 to June 4, 2023, Displacement Tracking Matrix “estimates that approximately 1,428,551 individuals (286,207 households) have been displaced internally as a result of the conflict. Notably, the current estimate for displacement in the previous 52 days is greater than that of recorded displacement during the previous 4 years. Furthermore, an estimated additional 476,8 11 individuals have crossed into neighbouring countries.”
Health care

The health care system in Sudan is weak, and the fighting has reduced medical access as health facilities cancel their services. At least 50,000 acutely malnourished children have had nutrition support disrupted due to the fighting. The shortage of food, fuel and supplies is also concerning.

As of June 4, “data from Sudan’s Doctor’s Trade Union suggests 70% of health care services are no longer functioning due to lack of supplies, personnel and access. Twenty-one hospitals have been forcibly evacuated by militants. And 17 hospitals have suffered aerial or land bombings, with nine ambulances attacked.”

Many hospitals are only providing basic first aid and lack personnel and supplies. Only 20% of hospitals are located outside of Khartoum, home to the most significant fighting.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says it has verified nearly 50 attacks on health care “including 29 attacks on health facilities, 19 impacting health personnel, 12 impacting supplies, 7 impacting transport, 6 impacting warehouses and another 6 impacting patients.”

As of June 4, there have been 866 civilian deaths and 5,800 injuries. On June 4, an attack in Kutum, in North Darfur, left 40 civilians dead and many more wounded. The Congolese government claims that 10 citizens were killed by an army attack on Khartoum’s International University of Africa on June 4.

WHO says the risk of diarrhoeal diseases is high as the water supply is disrupted, and people are drinking river water to survive. Additionally, a dengue fever outbreak has spread across 12 states with thousands of confirmed and suspected cases. A polio outbreak has affected dozens of children, there is also a measles outbreak, and cases of malaria are running rampant.


UNICEF reports that more than 13.6 million children are in urgent need of humanitarian aid. Millions of children are out of school because of school closures. Because they are out of school, they are at increased risk of recruitment by one of the armed groups.

UN OCHA shares that 618,000 school-aged children have been displaced inside or outside of the country. The Mygoma orphanage in Khartoum has faced shortages of supplies and staff, as well as power outages. Several of the more than 300 children they house have died due to infections, dehydration and malnourishment.

Water access and WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene)

At least 14.9 million people are in need in the WASH sector, according to the updated Sudan Humanitarian Needs Overview 2023, dated May 2023. The amount of funding needed has grown from $129 million to $230.9 million.

UNICEF has found that, “Inadequate water, hygiene and sanitation practices poses major risks for communities especially children. Moreover, water and sanitation related diseases are one of the leading causes of death for children under five. In Sudan 17.3 million people lack access to basic level drinking water supply and are at risk of disease. About 24 million lack access to proper sanitation facilities. Sanitation coverage has stagnated with more than 10.5 million people practice open defecation. This poses a major hazard to children and communities and has a significant impact on food security, rising malnutrition, disease outbreaks, conflict, and ultimately child morbidity and mortality.”

Key infrastructure, including pipes, has been damaged by the fighting (although it was not well maintained prior). Residents are using the Nile River for all water needs, including drinking, bathing and cleaning.

Hospitals also lack water, which impacts patient care and outcomes. Sudan, as an agricultural nation, uses 97% of its water to support that industry, but climate change – including water scarcity and desertification – is affecting that water supply as well.

Economic crisis

Sudan’s economy remains in crisis, with high inflation, a shortage of foreign currency and a large national debt. The country is struggling to provide basic services to its citizens, and many people are experiencing food insecurity and poverty (65% below the poverty line as of a 2020 report).

According to the World Bank, “The secession of South Sudan [in 2011] led to multiple economic shocks, including the loss of oil revenue that had accounted for more than half of the Sudan government’s revenue and 95% of its exports. This has reduced economic growth and resulted in double-digit consumer price inflation…”

Since 2011, inflation has increased to triple-digit numbers, although it decreased throughout 2022. As of January 2023, school fees had increased 400% and oil prices had grown by 300%.

Human rights and protection concerns

There are ongoing concerns about human rights abuses in Sudan, including reports of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions, and restrictions on freedom of expression and association. The government has taken some steps to address these issues, but progress has been slow. The protection issues have been amplified by the war, with fighting happening in urban areas leading to civilian deaths.

IDPs and refugees

The ongoing conflicts in some parts of Sudan, including in the Darfur region and in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan states, have led to the displacement of millions of people, who are often living in difficult conditions in camps and settlements.

Displaced people lack access to all basic services to meet their humanitarian needs, including access to water, food, shelter, protection, healthcare, etc.
Source: IOM
Hunger and nutrition

After originally deciding to pull out of the country when three staff were killed, the World Food Programme said on May 1 it was lifting its temporary suspension of assistance.

Before the outbreak of fighting, more than 15 million people faced severe food insecurity in Sudan, an increase of over two million people since last year. More than 11 million were accurately food insecure.

Food prices have doubled since April 15 when the fighting began. These numbers are expected to increase dramatically as the conflict continues. Much of the fighting is concentrated in Khartoum, which already has the highest number of South Sudanese refugees and a highly food-insecure population.

Despite above-average cereal production this year due to favorable weather, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network says levels of acute food insecurity are expected to deteriorate further.

Making matters worse, UN OCHA reported that a factory in Khartoum that manufactured critical supplies to treat malnourished children was burned to the ground.
Gender disparities

A Rapid Gender Analysis on Power and Participation conducted by CARE in Sudan’s Kassala State showed women are often not consulted in decision-making, and social norms are a key barrier towards greater inclusion. The report highlights opportunities to enhance women’s participation and leadership.


During a complex humanitarian emergency (CHE), immediate needs include shelter; food; WASH; health care; education; protection of at-risk populations and case management. These needs will continue throughout the course of the CHE.


Protection has been an ongoing humanitarian concern in Sudan for decades because of the protracted conflict, displacement and other forms of violence. These conflicts have resulted in widespread human rights violations, including attacks on civilians, sexual and gender-based violence (GBV), and forced displacement. The UN Protection Cluster covers four areas of key concerns: child protection; GBV; housing, land and property; and mine action.

Displacement contributes to and exacerbates protection risks. Displaced populations are particularly vulnerable to violence, exploitation and abuse, and therefore require enhanced protection. In addition to conflict-related protection concerns, Sudan also faces challenges related to human trafficking, smuggling and other forms of organized crime. These issues are particularly acute in refugee and IDP camps, where criminal networks often take advantage of the vulnerable population.

At the end of May 2023, the United Nations reported increasing numbers of reports about domestic violence and GBV. They were also hearing reports of sexual violence and rape of women and girls. Protection concerns are growing in Sudan because of the newest conflict, particularly for at-risk groups, including children, women, elderly persons and persons with disabilities, as families lose their socioeconomic and community-support structures. Humanitarian actors will work to ensure that vulnerable populations have access to basic services and protection from violence, exploitation, and abuse. This includes providing shelter, food, water and medical care, as well as supporting efforts to prevent and respond to human rights violations.

Cash assistance

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy recommends cash both as a donation method and a recovery strategy, where local markets allow. Direct cash assistance can allow families to purchase items and services that address their multiple needs. It gives each family flexibility and choice, ensuring that support is relevant and timely. Cash-based approaches to disaster recovery also give people the freedom to choose how they rebuild their lives and provide a pathway to economic empowerment.

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy has a Global Recovery Fund that provides an opportunity for donors to meet the ongoing and ever-expanding challenges presented by global crises.

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Philanthropic contributions

If you would like to make a donation to the CDP Global Recovery Fund, please contact development. 

(Photo: Homes destroyed by the violence between Sudanese Armed Forces and Rapid Support Forces in Sudan, April 2023. Photo courtesy of Patty McIlreavy.)

Recovery updates

If you are a responding NGO or a donor, please send updates on how you are working in this crisis to Tanya Gulliver-Garcia. 

We welcome the republication of our content. Please credit the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

Donor recommendations

If you are a donor looking for recommendations on how to help with this crisis, please email Regine A. Webster. 

Philanthropic and government support

As of May 1, donors had funded just 13.9% ($243.7 million) of Sudan’s 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan goal of $1.75 billion. In late May, the HRP goal was increased to $2.56 billion. As of June 6, a total of $401.4 million had been funded (just 15.6%). The U.S. government has contributed over half (55.2%) of the funds to date: $221.6 million. The European Commission is second at 11% or $44.3 million.

CDP provided a grant in 2022 of $202,488 to the Near East Foundation. The project provided rapid, life-saving support to highly vulnerable conflict- and crisis-impacted people (IDPs, returnees, and vulnerable host populations) in South Sudan and Sudan, helping them to reduce their risk of food insecurity, recover their livelihoods, and build resilience to future shocks and disruptions through improved agricultural production, inclusive value chain development, and access to finance. The project deployed durable early recovery solutions to complex and chronic emergencies in Sudan and South Sudan.

In 2021, CDP provided a $25,000 grant to World Vision to provide support for the well-being of children in the areas devastated by floods and in settings where populations are already vulnerable through WASH emergency interventions, shelter and non-food items, protection of children, and support for health services and mobile clinics.

More ways to help

As with most disasters and emergencies, cash donations are recommended by disaster experts as they allow for on-the-ground agencies to direct funds to the most significant area of need, support local economic recovery and ensure material donations do not detract from disaster recovery needs.

Donors can help in the following ways:

  • Provide unrestricted core funding for vetted humanitarian NGO partners that support the HRP. This is an efficient way to ensure the best use of resources in a coordinated manner. Funding the NGOs that have contributed to the HRP ensures that resources are directed to support the plan and use humanitarian partners’ best knowledge. Funders can support humanitarian organizations working in Sudan to provide aid, such as food, water, shelter and medical care, to those in need in the immediate future. But, because of the protracted nature of the crisis, funders can also invest in development projects that help build infrastructure, create jobs and promote economic growth in Sudan. These projects can include initiatives to improve agriculture, energy and transportation systems, as well as programs that support entrepreneurship and small businesses. CDP is in contact with a number of organizations with long histories of providing support in the country.
  • Understand that recovery and resilience-building is possible in protracted and complex crisis settings. Even while focusing on immediate needs, remember that there are early and long-term recovery needs, too. We know that people who have been affected by shocks in complex humanitarian contexts can recover, improve their situation and build their resilience to withstand future shocks without waiting until the crisis is over, which may take years. Recovery is possible, and funding will be needed for recovery and resilience efforts alongside humanitarian funding. Recovery will take a long time, and funding will be needed now and throughout.
  • Recognize there are places and ways that private philanthropy can help that other donors may not. Private funders can support nimble and innovative solutions that leverage or augment the larger humanitarian system response, either filling gaps or modeling change that, once tested and proven, can be taken to scale within the broader humanitarian response structure. Philanthropy can also provide sustainable funding to national and local organizations that support needed operational costs.

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UN IASC Protection Cluster

UN IASC Protection Cluster

The Protection Cluster is one of 11 function-based clusters of the UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee Cluster System. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees leads the Cluster.

Complex Humanitarian Emergencies

Complex Humanitarian Emergencies

CHEs involve an acute emergency layered over ongoing instability. Multiple scenarios can cause CHEs, like the civil wars in Syria and Yemen, the man-made political crisis in Venezuela, or the public health crisis in Congo.

Emergency and Interim Shelter

Emergency and Interim Shelter

After a disaster, shelter is more than a place to rest, it is a place of security, access to food, water and medical treatment. A place to start recovering after a disaster.