CAFOD and its humanitarian partners sound famine alarm as situation in Sudan worsens

Catholic charity CAFOD and other humanitarian organisations working in Sudan and its neighbouring countries are sounding the alarm that Sudan is on the verge of famine, urging all actors to immediately scale-up efforts to avoid the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives.

The appeal comes ahead of a humanitarian conference to be hosted in Paris on 15th April by France, the European Union and Germany to help resolve what the UN considers to be “one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent history, with potential to trigger the world’s largest hunger emergency.”

The food crisis is a direct consequence of the conflict that broke out on April 15th last year between the two rival generals, Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan at the head of the Sudanese regular army (SAF), and Mohamed Dagalo “Hemedti” leading the paramilitaries of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

Despite General Dagalo announcing his commitment to a ceasefire early in January this year,  and a recent United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a cessation of hostilities, the fighting shows no sign of abating.

Sudan’s worst hunger crisis

At a virtual media briefing hosted on Tuesday by the InterAgency Working Group for East and Central Africa (IAWG) and the Sudan INGO Forum, experts confirmed that the African nation is facing the worst hunger crisis it has ever experienced, and challenged the participants in the upcoming Paris Conference to come up with a concrete outcome before it is too late.

CAFOD’s Country Representative for Sudan, Telley Sadia, said: The crisis in Sudan has reached unprecedented levels, eclipsing even the most severe displacement crises worldwide. With over 8.5 million people displaced, surpassing figures from Ukraine and Syria, urgent action is imperative. As violence persists into its second year, the humanitarian situation deteriorates rapidly, with 25 million Sudanese in need of immediate assistance. 

“Famine looms ominously, threatening to become the worst food crisis in living memory. Despite harvest season, children are already succumbing to starvation, while food prices skyrocket. By June, up to 7 million people could face famine-like conditions. 

“We call upon donor governments and leaders convening in Paris to swiftly allocate the US$2.7 billion required for Sudan’s relief efforts. Funds must reach local responders promptly. We also call for an immediate ceasefire, civilian protection, and unimpeded humanitarian access.  

“CAFOD is on the ground in Sudan and neighbouring countries, working tirelessly alongside local partners. The situation is dire; countless women and children, starving and traumatised, face unbearable circumstances. Action is not just necessary; it’s a moral imperative to prevent further devastation.” 

The year-long conflict between the SAF and the RSF has left more than 8,5 million people internally displaced people, 1,5 million displaced in neighbouring countries, and over half Sudan’s 25-million population unable to meet their basic food needs with famine already setting in.

Starvation as weapon

Fighting has disrupted harvests and whilst markets continue to function in many locations, peoples purchasing power has plummeted and families forced to leave their homes and without income can simply not afford spiralling food prices.

At the same time, access to humanitarian assistance continues to be severely limited by restrictions on civilian movement, lack of ports of entry in addition to insecurity.

With the conflict further extending, and as Sudan enters the lean season, said Anette Hoffmann,  Senior Research Fellow at the Conflict Research Unit of the Clingendael Institute,  the situation is expected to deteriorate even more dramatically than foreseen only a few weeks ago, if no immediate action is taken.  This, she said, should include providing seeds and fertilizers to farmers, as well food to the population.

She also remarked that both warring factions are using starvation as a weapon by systematically looting food supplies and harvest.

Children and women are disproportionately and severely affected by the hunger and malnutrition emergency. Already nearly 4 million children under 5 years old are acutely malnourished. Women and girls are eating less and less nutritious foods than men and boys. Approximately 1.2 million pregnant and breastfeeding women face acute malnutrition. As the food security situation worsens women also face sexual violence, including rape, said Sofia Sprechmann Sineiro, Secretary-General of CARE International.

With over 70% of health facilities shut down in conflict areas dropping child-vaccination coverage, limited access to services and looming disease outbreaks compound  the threats faced by these highly vulnerable groups.

Furthermore the conflict has serioulsy affected Sudan’s education system: 19 million Sudanese children are out of school, said   Eatizaz Yousif, Sudan Country Director of the International Red Cross (IRC)

Challenges to regional security and economic stability

The crisis in Sudan also poses significant challenges to regional security and economic stability. More than 1.8 million people have fled Sudan since April 2023, with the majority seeking refuge in neighbouring countries – including Chad, South Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia, and the Central African Republic – placing an incredible strain on already fragile countries with humanitarian crises of their own.

On 15 February 2024, the Government of Chad declared a state of food and nutrition emergency, reflecting the urgency of the situation.  Almost 500,000 South Sudanese who had previously fled conflict and moved to Sudan have had no choice but to return, placing enormous strain on the pre-existing displacement crisis in South Sudan. What is at stake today is an entire region, from Red Sea to the Sahel.

No one should die of hunger due to a lack of funding

In the face of the unprecedented scale of the crisis and in view of the Paris Conference they therefore insisted that the international community must intervene immediately.

“We can’t sit and watch as we see another crisis unfolds”, said Dominic MacSorley, Humanitarian Ambassador of the non-governmental organization CONCERN.

“No one should die of hunger due to a lack of funding and  UN members states, especially those in the Security Council and those who have the greatest influence in the region really need to use their power to press for the immediate cessation of hostilities and a peaceful negotiated solution to  the conflict”, he added.