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Sudan Humanitarian Crisis

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The latest conflict broke out in Sudan on April 15, 2023, exacerbating the pre-existing humanitarian crisis.

In a statement issued on Jan. 4, 2024, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator for Sudan Martin Griffiths stated,

“Nearly nine months of war have tipped Sudan into a downward spiral that only grows more ruinous by the day. […] Now that hostilities have reached the country’s breadbasket in Aj Jazirah State, there is even more at stake. More than 500,000 people have fled fighting in and around the state capital Wad Medani, long a place of refuge for those uprooted by clashes elsewhere. […] Given Wad Medani’s significance as a hub for relief operations, the fighting there – and looting of humanitarian warehouses and supplies – is a body blow to our efforts to deliver food, water, health care and other critical aid. Once again, I strongly condemn the looting of humanitarian supplies, which undermines our ability to save lives. […] For Sudan’s people, 2023 was a year of suffering. In 2024, the parties to the conflict must do three things to end it: Protect civilians, facilitate humanitarian access, and stop the fighting – immediately.”

Sudan has the highest number of internally displaced people in the world. This number has exceeded 7.6 million as of early 2024.

CDP posted a call to action for funders to address the inequities in how philanthropy has responded to Sudan compared to other conflicts, such as the crisis in Ukraine.

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

More than 50 human rights and humanitarian organizations issued their own call to action on Sept. 12, 2023 saying:

“We, the heads of over 50 human rights and humanitarian organizations are coming together to sound the alarm about Sudan, where a disaster is unfolding before our eyes. With fighting continuing across the country, brutal sexual violence rising, widespread deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians, and journalists and human rights defenders being silenced, the country is no longer at the precipice of mass atrocities; it has fallen over the edge … Twenty years after the horrors of Darfur shocked our conscience, we are failing to meet the moment … We urge a more unified approach that better represents the voices and perspectives of Sudan’s civilians, including women, youth, and representatives from the historically marginalized ‘periphery.’ We are committed to working together to urge more aid for, more solidarity with, and greater attention to the needs of Sudan’s civilians … Donors should step up humanitarian funding, both for local and international organizations who are providing indispensable assistance in Sudan and neighboring countries. The costs of inaction are mounting.”

In a September 2023 event at the UN General Assembly, this crisis of inaction was discussed. The press release from UN OCHA for the convening stated:

“As hostilities and ethnic violence spread, the humanitarian crisis threatens to consume the entire country, while Sudan’s neighbours face a rising influx of refugees and returnees. Malnutrition rates are surging, foreshadowing premature deaths for thousands of Sudanese children. Half of the population is acutely food insecure, and more than 6 million people are just one step away from famine. Measles and other diseases run rampant, and sexual and gender-based violence are taking an appalling toll on women and girls. More than 5 million people have been driven from their homes, including more than 1 million who have sought refuge in neighbouring Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia and South Sudan. With no end in sight to the fighting, the humanitarian response is a lifeline for millions of people. Though large in scale, relief efforts remain inadequate and underfunded, and aid workers face major access challenges on the ground. Neighbouring countries are also struggling to meet the needs of refugees fleeing the violence.”

Africa’s third-largest country, 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 essential services, especially health services. While these issues have resulted in millions of internally displaced Sudanese, Sudan also hosts refugees from South Sudan and Ethiopia. Some of these refugees have left, returning home or traveling to another country, while others have been forced to relocate internally. The humanitarian crisis is also causing challenges in countries such as Chad, where hundreds of thousands of people from Sudan – citizens and refugees – have fled in search of safety.

On April 15, 2023, 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 since then against the pro-democracy movement  this alliance ended in mid-April, and begat a civil war.

In June 2023, the governor of West Darfur, one of Sudan’s five states in the region, was abducted and killed. This not only sparked additional fighting and displacement, but caused concern among many that the two sides of the conflict were struggling to maintain control of their forces.

Speaking to Al Jazeera in September on the sidelines of the UN, “the country’s de facto leader, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, has admitted the fighting could lead to a wider humanitarian disaster in the region … Ceasefire talks to end the conflict have failed to hold, with both sides accusing the other of violations. But al-Burhan said the United States and Saudi Arabia-brokered negotiations in Jeddah could still succeed.”

Al-Burhan told the UN General assembly that he thinks the RSF should be declared to be terrorists, which may “limit their power and will limit sympathy for them.”

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.

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
  • In addition to Sudan’s standing vulnerability to conflict, disasters associated with natural hazards, disease outbreaks, and economic deterioration, the Sudan Humanitarian Needs and Response Plan 2024 says, “The fighting has also caused extensive damage to critical infrastructure, including water and healthcare, the collapse of banking and financial services, frequent interruptions to electricity supply and telecommunication services and widespread looting. An estimated 70 per cent of health facilities in states affected by conflict are not working, and the remaining ones are overwhelmed by the influx of people seeking assistance.”
  • The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in Eastern Africa Heads of State Summit met on Jan. 18, 2024, in Uganda. The Sudanese government did not take part in the summit and requested that IGAD stay out of its affairs. Sudan’s former Prime Minister and current civilian anti-war coalition leader Abdallah Hamdok and RSF leader Dagalo held meetings on the summit’s sidelines. IGAD leaders called on the two sides to meet within two weeks stating, “’The Republic of the Sudan does not belong to the parties to the conflict only but to the Sudanese people … IGAD Member States have a primary responsibility to ensure the will of the people of the Sudan prevails.’” On Jan. 20, Sudan suspended its membership in IGAD stating that “it is not bound by or concerned with any IGAD pronouncements regarding Sudanese matters.”
  • As of January 2024, more than 20 million people are facing acute food insecurity. It is expected that 24.8 million people in Sudan, approximately half the population, will need humanitarian assistance in 2024. Of those, 26% are women and 48% are children. IOM is predicting that this could grow to 26.5 million. This is a significant increase from previous years: 15.8 million people in January 2023 and 14.3 million in 2022.
  • Humanitarian workers have faced increasing violence. Dozens of warehouses and offices of humanitarian operations were looted. More than 200 vehicles have been stolen from humanitarian aid workers. Despite this, there are 163 organizations supporting the people of Sudan, including 87 national nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), 58 international NGOs, 11 UN agencies, six government partners and the Sudanese Red Crescent.
  • The annual flooding season affected thousands of people this year, despite starting a couple of months later than last year. Over 89,000 people have been affected, including more than 8,000 homes damaged and another 8,000 homes destroyed. Most of the impact of the flooding occurred in Merwoe (22,005 people affected), in Northern state.
  • The war is costing the Sudanese economy roughly $80 million each day. The Sudanese economy has declined rapidly and the exchange on the market to U.S. dollars is unfavorable.
  • On Sept. 9, Volker Perthes, the UN special envoy to Sudan, resigned. In his final speech to the UN Security Council he warned that the violence had “worsened dramatically” and the conflict “could be morphing into a full-scale civil war.
  • According to IOM, from April 15, 2023 to Jan. 9, 2024, the Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) estimates that 6.1 million individuals (1.2 million households) have been displaced since April 15. The internally displaced persons (IDP) caseload was observed in 6,355 locations across all of Sudan’s 18 states. The highest proportions of IDPs were observed across South Darfur (12%), East Darfur (11%), River Nile (11%), White Nile (8%), Aj Jazirah (8%) and North Darfur (8%). UNHCR says about 1.7 million people have crossed into other countries. People have been displaced from 12 states, with 3.6 million coming from Khartoum State (59%), 15% from South Darfur, 8% from North Darfur and Ai Jazirah, 4% from Central Darfur and 3% from West Darfur.
Source: IOM
  • On Jan. 21, 2024, UN OCHA said, “The number of people displaced in Sudan has increased by about 611,000 over the past month, mainly due to the conflict-induced displacement from Aj Jazirah and other states.”
Deaths and injuries

As of Jan. 22, 2024, there have been more than 13,100 fatalities, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED). These numbers include military deaths. ACLED says, “This number is a conservative estimate due to methodological limitations of real-time reporting in a conflict of this nature.”

From Oct. 28 to Nov. 24, 2023, the ACLED recorded 1,690 reported fatalities across 360 political violence events. The two primary battle grounds are the capital city of Khartoum and the tactically strategic location of Jabal Awlia.

The Health Ministry estimates that at least 26,000 people have been injured.

In early November, armed groups reportedly killed more than 800 people in Ardamata, West Darfur and displaced over 8,000 more to neighboring Chad. When local rights monitors interviewed some of these refugees, they estimated the death toll to be closer to 2,000. Only a week later, the Sudanese government asked the UN to “immediately terminate” its UNITAMS political mission in the country, prompting the UN Secretary-General to appoint a special envoy. This development has significantly reduced the UN’s ability to monitor the conflict and resulting humanitarian crisis.

Health care

The health care system in Sudan was already weak, and the fighting has significantly reduced medical access as health facilities have been attacked, destroyed or had to close their services. The shortage of food, fuel and supplies is also concerning, as are power outages and dangers to staff and patients.

According to the WHO Surveillance System of Attacks on Healthcare, details further the attacks mentioned above. Since the start of the conflict until Jan. 22, 2024, WHO has verified 60 attacks on health care resulting in 34 deaths and 38 injuries. Of these, 39 attacks impacted facilities, 23 impacted personnel, 17 impacted supplies, eight impacted transport, seven impacted patients and seven impacted warehouses.

Types of attacks are broken down into several categories including individual weapons (31 attacks), psychological violence (28), assault (17) and heavy weapons (13).

These attacks have lessened as the conflict has continued with the highest number occurring in April (27) but only four in October. They are not solely related to the current conflicts as there were 23 in 2022 and 29 in 2021. There was one other attack before April 14, 2023.

According to UN OCHA, “The Health Cluster has reported that the number of suspected measles cases across Sudan has increased by more than 1,000 new cases, compared to the 3,311 cases reported last week and reached 4,334 cases since April. This includes 127 deaths (40 more than those reported last week), representing a case fatality rate of 2.9 per cent. White Nile State accounts for 98 deaths—77 per cent of measles-related deaths.”

In December, the Health Cluster in Sudan reported escalating cholera and dengue outbreaks in addition to ongoing provision of sexual and reproductive services, mental health services, vaccination campaigns, and working to enhance Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) preparedness and response. All of this work is being done amid significant challenges ranging from ongoing insecurity and constrained healthcare access to “poor roads, inaccessible stocks, and bureaucratic barriers;” from destruction of health infrastructure to “a shortage of medicines, disrupted childhood vaccinations, malnutrition affecting one in seven children, and heightened sexual and reproductive health risks for 4 million individuals”.

Children

The ongoing conflict will have an outsized and enduring impact on children. They are losing out on education, they are being exposed to trauma and war, and even being used in the fighting as child soldiers. Some young girls are being married off, in a desire to prevent sexual exploitation, although that act itself can also be seen as exploitative.

Children are dying of preventable diseases because of the lack of medications, health care professionals and vaccines. They are also being killed in the fighting. Philanthropists funding in Sudan must be understand that the enduring effect of war on children will require long-term solutions, including building local capacity in the children’s care sector.

UNICEF reports that more than 13.6 million (1 in 2) children are in urgent need of humanitarian aid. At least 1.7 million children have been newly displaced, adding to the 1.9 million children who were displaced before this crisis.

On Sept. 19, UNICEF spokesperson James Elder said, “333,000 children will be born in Sudan between October and December. They and their mothers need skilled delivery care. However, in a country where millions are either trapped in warzones or displaced, and where there are grave shortages of medical supplies, such care is becoming less likely by the day … Nutrition services are equally devastated. Every month 55,000 children require treatment for the most lethal form of malnutrition. And yet in Khartoum less than one in 50 nutrition centres is functional, in West Darfur it’s one in 10.”

UNICEF, released a statement in July stating that at least 435 children have been killed since April 15 and more than 2,025 children have been injured. They also state that there is an average of at least one violation of children’s rights every hour (more than 2,500 total).

Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director for Humanitarian Action and Supply Operations stated, “Every day children are being killed, injured, abducted and seeing the schools, hospitals and the vital infrastructure and life-saving supplies they rely on damaged, destroyed or looted.”

James Elder of UNICEF said, “Sudan is already facing one of the largest learning crises in the world, with more than seven million children out of school, and 12 million waiting for the schools to re-open. For children education is about more than the right to learn. Schools can protect children from the physical dangers around them – including abuse, exploitation, and recruitment into armed groups. Should the conflict result in schools remaining closed, this will have devastating impacts for children’s development and psychosocial wellbeing.” Being out of school puts young people at increased risk of recruitment in one of the armed groups, sold in child marriage or forced into child labor.

On Dec. 21, 2023, UNICEF reported that fighting in Al Jazirah state had displaced at least 150,000 children from their homes in less than a week. Furthermore, “The escalation in fighting has led to a suspension of all humanitarian field missions within and from Al Jazirah State as of 15 December, further impacting children and families. […] UNICEF requires $840 million in 2024 to sustain and scale lifesaving and resilience services for close to 8 million of the most vulnerable children in Sudan.”

There are 1.7 million children under the age of one who are at risk of missing one or more essential vaccinations.

Water access and WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene)

At least 18.9 million people are in need in the WASH sector, according to the 2024 Humanitarian Needs and Response Plan (HNRP) for Sudan. The amount of funding needed has grown from $129 million to $230.9 million and only $41.2 million has been received. “The significant shift in operating costs can primarily be attributed to increased expenses for transportation, supply management, and fuel, and the operation of water stations and public water facilities, especially in urban areas.”

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.

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.

According to the 2024 HNRP, “WASH partners prioritise addressing the critical needs of IDPs, host communities, and residents living in partially accessible and hard-to-reach areas with limited access to safe WASH services. These regions encounter difficulties such as reliance on surface water (severity 5), utilization of unsafe water sources (severity 4), rampant open defecation (severity 5), subpar sanitation (severity 4), and poor access to handwashing with soap and water (severity 4 and 5).” One of the key goals of the WASH sector will be to create better gender-sensitive sanitation and basic water services for millions of women and girls.

Economic crisis

Even prior to the outbreak of conflict in April 2023, Sudan’s economy suffered from rampant inflation and shortages of basic goods. 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. Even prior to the latest civil war it had the highest poverty rate in Northern Africa.

The 2022 poverty rate was 15.3% when looking at the $2.15/day marker. But when increased to the lower middle-income poverty rate of $3.65/day, the rate jumped to 49.7%. The upper middle-income poverty rate of $6.85 shows a rate of 86.2%. While the GDP were expected to grow in 2023, the war has caused the economy to freeze. Food prices have increased dramatically and the banking system has essentially collapsed. The informal economy is behind much of the employment currently.

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%. Today, roughly half of Sudan’s population is unemployed and the Sudanese pound has lost more than half its value. Estimates by the IMF show that Sudan’s economy will have contracted by at least 18% in 2023. This will severely hamper Sudan’s ability to recover and rebuild after the conflict, if and when they should occur.

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.

According to Amnesty International, there have been “extensive war crimes including mass killings of civilians, rape and sexual slavery of women in the ongoing conflict … Amnesty detailed waves of violence in West Darfur province —one of five constituting the Darfur region — including the killing of civilians, looting and destruction of homes and facilities such as the main hospital and markets.”

On July 13, the UN Security Council was informed about a mass grave of 87 bodies found outside the region’s capital El-Geneina. Most are Masalit, who are often targeted by the RSF and their allied militias, especially Arab militias. It is believed they were killed between June 13-21. This ethnic cleansing is reminiscent of the genocide in Darfur in 2003, which killed hundreds of thousands of people.

The Council on Foreign Relations reports that the group most at risk varies by location. They said, “With places like El-Obeid, Kadugli, and El-Geneina becoming arenas of conflict, many Sudanese civilians have been caught in the crossfire. The Washington, D.C.-based Search for Common Ground (SFCG) found that children were most impacted in Blue Nile and North Kordofan, elders were most affected in Khartoum, and women were disproportionately affected in Gadarif and Kassala.”

David Miliband, President and CEO of the IRC, said. “On the current trajectory, Sudan will become the next Syria: the world’s largest humanitarian crisis both in terms of people in need and displacement to neighbouring countries and beyond. […] The risk is that the West will only start paying attention when the crisis reaches its gates. The international community must not squander the opportunity to engage with regional powers for a concerted diplomatic push to halt the slide towards catastrophe.”

Internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees

As of Jan. 8, 2024, more than 5.9 million people have been displaced internally. This is more than 1.7 million additional people since Sept. 19, 2023. This is the highest number of internally displaced people in the world.

The majority of IDPs were displaced from Khartoum state (61%), followed by South Darfur (16%), North Darfur (8%), Aj Jazirah (5%), Central Darfur (4%), West Darfur (3%), East Darfur (1%), South Kordofan (1%) and North Kordofan (1%).

Source: IOM

UNHCR said, “All the neighbouring countries impacted by this new emergency were already hosting large numbers of refugees and internally displaced people on insufficient and dwindling levels of humanitarian funding. At the same time, countries like Chad and South Sudan (the two least developed countries in the world) were battling hunger, insecurity, and the impacts of climate change. Now the conflict is disrupting trade and supply chains, pushing up the costs of food and fuel.”

It is important for funders to consider the needs of host countries as they receive refugees.

In Venezuela, another large refugee crisis CDP is monitoring, the needs of receiving communities are often overshadowed by the needs of the sending country, but they are equally important. The same is true for Sudan and its neighbors. The influx of refugees is adding to pre-existing problems in the countries.

The Council on Foreign Relations points out: “Five of the seven countries bordering Sudan have recently suffered internal conflict, and refugees who previously fled violence and famine in Ethiopia and South Sudan are now returning to their home countries alongside Sudanese nationals. Additionally, countries are concerned about spillover conflict and potential foreign interference; Egypt has close ties to the SAF, while Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar, reportedly backed by Russian mercenaries, has sent military supplies to the RSF. The crisis could also threaten regional economic cooperation on Nile River water resources and several major oil pipelines that cross through Sudan. UN experts say Sudan’s neighbors need far more assistance. The Central African Republic has called for more aid, as its own internal conflict has rendered it ill-equipped to handle incoming refugee flows. Chad closed its land border with Sudan but continues to aid refugees that make it across. Meanwhile, Egypt’s border remains open, but reports say crossings are often delayed for days, and there are worries about the country’s ability to absorb refugees. Several countries in the Horn of Africa and Sahel regions—including Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Kenya, and South Sudan—have participated in peace negotiations in hopes of stemming these issues at their source.”

More than 484,000 people have fled Sudan for South Sudan, which won independence from Sudan in 2011. South Sudan is facing a massive hunger crisis and has its own shaky power-sharing leadership agreement. However, the terms of the peace deal signed in 2018 after a five-year civil war that caused 400,000 deaths, have not been met.

The United Nations envoy to South Sudan says that the crisis in Sudan should “serve as a wake-up call for Juba” (the capital of South Sudan). He adds, “‘[The situation] reinforces the imperative to move swiftly in strengthening the foundations for peace, stability and inclusive governance. A conducive political and civic environment is required for all political parties, civil society groups, media and all South Sudanese.’ The United Nations has repeatedly criticised South Sudan’s leadership for its role in stoking violence, cracking down on political freedoms and plundering public coffers.”

Due to its own crises, South Sudan faces many challenges in welcoming and meeting the needs of the Sudanese refugees. The Acting Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, Peter Van der Auweraert said, “When people arrive South Sudan today, they are more vulnerable than they used to be, they are more likely to be undernourished, they are more likely to be sick and they are more likely to need more assistance than before.”

Learn more about the South Sudan Humanitarian Crisis.

In Egypt, where nearly 325,000 people have fled, a coordination platform has been developed by 14 organizations operated by Sudanese refugees and migrants. More than two million Sudanese already live in Egypt. The New Humanitarian reports that they are operating under the belief that “The best experts to assist refugees are the refugees themselves … The organisations have been helping new arrivals find affordable apartments and free temporary shelter, and are offering a range of other services, from psychosocial support and enrolling children in local schools to helping people formally register as refugees.”

Hunger and nutrition

As of December 2023, nearly 20 million people are facing severe food insecurity. This is an increase of five million people since the fighting broke out, and it was 13 million in 2022.

UN OCHA reported, “Devastating conflict and organized violence, coupled with the continued economic decline, have driven about 17.7 million people across Sudan (37 per cent of the population) into high levels of acute food insecurity, classified in the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) Phase 3 or above (Crisis or worse) between October 2023 and February 2024. This includes about 4.9 million people (10 per cent of the population) who are in IPC Phase 4 (Emergency) and almost 12.8 million people (27 per cent of the population analyzed) are in IPC Phase 3 (Crisis). The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) sounded the alarm about the escalating food security crisis in Sudan, urging immediate and collective action to avert an impending humanitarian catastrophe.”

The harvesting season (October 2023 to February 2024) so far indicates below average harvests due to disruptions in harvesting activities from conflict and from poor rains.

Source: FEWS NET

The IPC also said that food insecurity has increased because of the looting and attacks on markets, water facilities, banks and public buildings. “The price of food and essential commodities has soared, limiting access to the market for the population. According to reports from numerous states, including those unaffected by the ongoing fighting, the conflict between SAF and RSF in Sudan is endangering the production of staple crops this year.”

UNICEF says that 5.2 million children underwent malnutrition screening and 295,300 of those required immediate life-saving treatment for severe acute malnutrition (SAM).

According to the Food Security and Livelihoods Cluster in Sudan, 7.87 million people have been reached with life-saving food and emergency livelihoods assistance between April 15 and Oct. 15, 2023. The World Food Programme (WFP) has been able to assist 2.7 million people since the fighting began. However, their distribution has been hampered by the violence, and they suspended services temporarily after three WFP aid workers were killed. As of the end of November, WFP reported reaching 1.8 million people with food aid, cash transfers and nutrition assistance.

According to FEWS Net, “In December, prices overall continued to rise across most markets despite the ongoing harvesting, indicative of disruption to trade flows, high production costs, and the impact of anticipated below-average harvests. […] Compared to the peak of the lean season (August-September), December prices were significantly higher (+17-33 percent) in Wad Madani, Kadugli, El Obeid, Nyala, and El Gedarif. As of the end of December, the average price of sorghum was 45 percent above December 2022 and 252 percent above the five-year average. […] In December, wheat prices started to increase by 10 to 15 percent across most markets in Sudan driven by seasonal reductions in supplies from the last March/April 2023 harvest and relatively increased demand. […] The average wheat prices are almost 65 percent higher than December 2022 and 250 percent above the five-year average, driven by the high cost of production and local currency devaluation.”

WFP says that the price of a local food basket in November 2023 had reached $1.26 USD, “reflecting a 13.49% increase from the previous month and a substantial 71.79% rise from Q1-2023, before the conflict.” At the same time, the foreign exchange rate has increased, and the daily labor wage rate has decreased. “In November, the average foreign exchange rate underwent a significant devaluation of 9.4%, dropping to approximately 1,050 SDG/1US$, in contrast to the October 2023 rate of 960 SDG/1US$.”

WFP reports that inflation is reducing people’s ability to meet basic needs, with 36% unable to afford the contents of a WFP food basket. About 85% of households spend 65% of their income just on food and overall, food prices are 228% higher than two years ago.

Gender disparities

The roles of women and men in conflict-affected regions of Sudan differ significantly. Women regularly encounter social and cultural restrictions on mobility, access to markets, education and training, and healthcare, not to mention basic social interaction with neighbors and friends.

Women are also excluded from roles that would provide them with opportunities to resolve conflict and build peace; roles like tribal council members, native administrations and representation of women’s issues in development agendas.

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. Bringing women (and youth) into community organizing can reduce extremism.

Gender-Based Violence (GBV) is increasing. As many as 4.2 million women and girls face the risks of GBV.

There are several types of gender-based violence present in Sudan. CARE’s Rapid Gender Analysis was conducted in early 2023, ending just as the conflict was beginning. They are clear that the conflict will have only increased the risks for women and girls in the country and in surrounding countries.

In particular, the report calls attention to, “The types of GBV identified in Sudan include domestic / family violence (e.g., hard beating, psychological abuse), community social violence (e.g., exclusion, humiliation), harmful traditions and customs (e.g., early marriage, FGM/C [female genital mutilation/cutting]), and violence during war (e.g., rape, killing). Women experience several challenges related to GBV – beyond the act of violence itself – such as stigmatization of reporting and the normalization of domestic violence. GBV is so prevalent due to unequal laws the enable it, patriarchal gender norms, economic hardship, insecurity and conflict, and the absence of law enforcement. It is driven internally by the family by the deep need to protect family honor.”

Source: CARE

In August 2023, UN experts raised concerns at reports of multiple serious violations perpetrated in particular by the RSF. This included reports of sexual exploitation, slavery, trafficking, rape and acts tantamount to enforced disappearances, which in some cases may have been racially, ethnically and politically motivated, including for expressing opposition to the presence of armed groups in an area. Since then, reports of forced prostitution and forced marriage of women and girls have also emerged.

They also warned that victims and survivors of such crimes, in particular children, may suffer long-lasting traumatic impacts on their physical, mental, and sexual health and development. Their access to adequate support services must be ensured as well as access to gender-sensitive reparations for the harm and violations suffered.

Climate change

Sudan is also subject to the impacts of climate change. Sudan is one of the ten countries in the world most vulnerable to climate change.

These vulnerabilities include seasonal rains becoming more unpredictable, increasingly frequent droughts and rise in temperature. Land degradation and forestation compound the impacts of climate hazards.

Climate change has also been a source of conflict due to competition for water resources, grazing land and pastures. Available evidence suggests that climate change has also heightened competition for access to water sources, pastures and traditional grazing lands.

Practical Action released a report in May 2023 highlighting the linkage between conflict, displacement, climate change, and environmental damage. It stated, “War and displacement exacerbate environmental damage. As people flee war and then return to their villages, they rebuild using scarce resources vital to the eco system. Trees are cut down, ancient migratory routes and pastureland are turned into farmland, accelerating desertification, worsening drought and reigniting conflict. […] Climate change is bringing additional pressures, such as new diseases and pests, making those few crops – and those that farm them – even more vulnerable to extreme weather patterns. Yields of the local staple crop, sorghum, are likely to fall without changes to the ways in which it is farmed.”

According to UNEP research, “approximately 40% of internal conflicts over the past six decades can be attributed to the exploitation of natural resources, including competition over scarce resources, such as fertile land and water.”

Four areas that need to be addressed in the Sudan humanitarian response:

  • Advocating for solutions though a long-term political process: Ambassador Alexander Rondos, the European Union Special Representative for the Horn of Africa, said, that Sudan needs a “long-term political process to bring peace and stability.” Will Carter of the Norwegian Refugee Council added, “International and regional bodies must also strongly condemn, at the highest levels, the blatant violations of international humanitarian law that are ongoing. Parties to the conflict need to be put on notice.”
  • Providing for immediate humanitarian needs: Rondos also recognizes that there are immediate humanitarian needs to be addressed. Getting it right in the beginning can help improved recovery. Donors can help by supporting calls to end restrictions on entry in Sudan for both supplies and humanitarian workers. Supply lines need to be secured.
  • Supporting internally displaced people: Displaced people lack access to all basic services to meet their humanitarian needs, including access to water, food, shelter, protection, healthcare, etc. The longer these communities are displaced, the more critical and complex their needs will become. This includes, as mentioned above, the need to address ongoing chronic diseases, preventative health and mental health.
  • Addressing needs of host communities: There are also increasing needs within the many countries receiving Sudanese refugees. The UN Refugee Agency has estimated that by the end of 2023, at least 1.8 million people will arrive in Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia or South Sudan. This estimate has increased dramatically from initial numbers of 250,000 refugees in early May. The people coming into these countries exhausted and overwhelmed from the violence, hungry, sick and fighting preventable diseases. The host countries are reporting “rising malnutrition rates and disease such as cholera and measles.” On Sept. 4, 2023, UNHCR issued a revised Sudan Emergency Supplementary Appeal (May- December 2023) to reflect increased needs of USD 506,528,613. As of Jan. 4, 2024, the total available funding for the appeal only 40.8% of the funding.

During any complex humanitarian emergency (CHE), immediate needs always include shelter; food; WASH; emergency health care; education; protection of at-risk populations and case management. These needs will continue throughout the course of the CHE. As the crisis becomes more protracted issues include restoration of livelihoods, mental health, cash assistance, as well as preventative disease and chronic health disease management.

Security and protection

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.

Protection concerns are growing in Sudan because of the latest 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.

Access

Connected to, but also separate from security and protection, are issues of access. Aid organizations face many challenges in delivering goods and services to people in need. In Sudan the ongoing fighting is the biggest challenge, as well as the previously mentioned violence against health facilities.

UN OCHA reports that since the latest conflict started in April, “928 incidents impacting humanitarian operations have been reported; over 60 per cent due to active conflict or violence against humanitarian personnel and assets. The highest number of incidents continues to be recorded in Khartoum (37 per cent) where 282 incidents have been reported across six localities. Active hostilities represent 41 per cent, followed by violence against humanitarian personnel and assets (31 per cent) and attacks against public facilities (23 per cent).”

The security of physical, economic and social resources are important concerns. There needs to be safe, humanitarian access to certain places in Sudan, with full cooperation of all warring parties. This includes supplies being secured to prevent theft or damage. From a physical standpoint, water-supply plants and power plants must be secured, especially in urban areas. Economically, farmers need support to access fertilizer and other agricultural resources before planting season. They also need access to water. Dams across the Nile need to be protected both to support Sudan, but also the flow of water into Egypt.

Despite this, the UN and various national and international NGOs continue to deliver aid to many areas of the country. The Chad-Sudan cross-border arrangement facilitated the delivery of dozens of trucks of food supplies to West Darfur. But other humanitarian deliveries were canceled or delayed because of the lack of safety and security.

To understand the challenges and timelines, UN OCHA created this video.

UN OCHA adds, “Humanitarian organizations continue to face operational interference from parties to the conflict … Looting and attacks against humanitarian personnel are a continuous challenge … Bureaucratic and administrative obstacles are another challenge …Access and civil-military coordination efforts continue to enable the movement of relief items on the ground.”

Bureaucratic issues, including delayed visas, have been helped by an Administrative Decree from the Humanitarian Aid Commission that “extended up to 31 March 2024, the registration of national and international NGOs, which had expired and could not be renewed due to the critical security conditions in the country, provided the organizations implement their activities and programmes by the national legislation governing humanitarian action. The decision aims to facilitate humanitarian organizations’ work and enable them to deliver humanitarian assistance to the affected people.”

Funders can respond to issues of access in a few ways. First is to understand the constraints that humanitarian agencies are operating under. It isn’t possible to predict all possible outcomes and there may be additional costs or changed timelines.

Second, trust the organizations who have time and experience in the region. They know what is needed, how to maneuver and how to respond.

Third, be generous and flexible in your funding to allow agility. Let them lead, with input and direction from Sudanese people. And finally, call on governments to support peace talks and to call for all parties to respect International Human Law (IHL).

As Joyce Msuya, Assistant-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator at UN OCHA recently stated that the requirements of IHL are straightforward, “All parties to armed conflict must take constant care to spare civilians and civilian objects, including humanitarian personnel and assets, and essential infrastructure. Impartial humanitarian organizations must be able to engage with all parties, including non-State armed groups. And all parties must allow and facilitate the rapid and unimpeded passage of impartial humanitarian relief for civilians in need.”

Cash assistance

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 economic recovery and ensure donation management does not detract from disaster recovery needs and quickly re-establishing access to basic needs.

CDP recommends cash as a donation method and a recovery strategy. 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.

Support recovery now

Contact CDP

Philanthropic contributions

If you would like to make a donation to the CDP Global Recovery Fund, need help with your disaster-giving strategy or want to share how you’re responding to this disaster, 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, 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.

Philanthropic and government support

Sudan’s 2023 original Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) goal of $1.75 billion had received just 13.9% ($243.7 million) by May 1. In late May, the HRP goal was increased to $2.57 billion. As of Sept. 25, a total of $807.1 million had been funded (just 31.5%). The U.S. government has contributed over half (58.5%) of the funds to date: $472.5 million. The European Commission is second at 13.2% or $106.9 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.

Grassroots mutual aid organizations have been creating emergency rooms to provide services in communities and are able to work in areas where humanitarian organizations have pulled their staff. These groups stem from the activist networks that have fought against the regime of Omar al-Bashir in 2019. Despite the great work they are doing, they receive little financial support from international donors (most money comes from local or diaspora donations) and are being threatened by both factions in the war. The emergency rooms are supporting hospitals, sheltering displaced people and providing food and water.

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.

Fund resources

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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.