The people of Sudan are facing renewed trouble as fighting between the ruling military regime and the Rapid Support Force (RSF) paramilitary confederation puts the country’s poorest at risk. The ongoing conflict, which erupted on Saturday, April 15, 2023, puts vital humanitarian work in jeopardy. On Sunday, April 16, 2023, the World Food Program (WFP) announced that it was forced to cease operations as a result of the conflict in Sudan. A third of the population of Sudan is at risk of acute food insecurity. Getting them the vital aid they require is being rendered more difficult by the violence intensifying across the sub-Saharan nation.
The Cause of Conflict
In 2019, the deposition of long-term dictator Omar Hassan al-Bashir failed to result in the establishment of a stable and democratic civilian government in Sudan. The army, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, launched a coup and took control of the country in 2021. Civilian rule was due to be restored in Sudan at the start of April 2023 following an agreement brokered in December 2022 between the army and political and civil groups. However, disagreements over the deal, which would see the RSF integrated into the army, resulted in a power struggle between the two factions. On April 15, violent clashes between the army and the RSF broke out. Reports suggest that Khartoum, the country’s capital, has been consumed by 24-hour conflict since Saturday. Battles are also taking place across western Darfur and other regions in Sudan. So far, at least 400 people have died.
Sudan’s political and economic issues have worsened in the years following the 2019 uprising and military takeover. Western nations and international organizations have suspended the majority of aid and loans for Sudan. In the context of international isolation, chronic political unrest and economic hardship, conflict in Sudan spells even more misery for the country’s poorest. The long-dreaded violence between the country’s two chief military factions threatens to destabilize the Northeast Africa region and increase the number of internally displaced people in Sudan (already 3.7 million), and this could consequently make the process of getting humanitarian aid across to the country’s most vulnerable more challenging.
World Food Program Halts Operations
WFP, the world’s largest humanitarian organization, halted all operations in Sudan on Sunday, April 16, 2023, after three of its employees were killed the day before. The killings happened in Kabkabiya, North Darfur. An additional two employees were injured in the same incident. In a statement, WFP Executive Director Cindy McCain explained that all operations in Sudan had been suspended “pending a review of the evolving security situation.” Ms. McCain said threats to their teams make it impossible to operate safely and effectively in the country and carry out WFP’s critical work. She also said that damage inflicted on a U.N. Humanitarian Air Service aircraft during an exchange of fire at Khartoum airport seriously impacted the WFP’s ability to transport humanitarian workers and aid within the country.
The indefinite suspension of activities by the WFP represents a significant blow to the humanitarian effort in Sudan. WFP Sudan recently received a €24 million ($26 million) payment from the European Union (EU) to help meet the basic food and nutritional needs of the country’s poorest. As the conflict in Sudan continues, it is still unclear when citizens will receive this aid. Although the WFP was already experiencing “pipeline breaks” to its nutrition support and school feeding program before fighting broke out, the people of Sudan could begin to feel the loss of its activity as they run low on food and water.
Former dictator, Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s ban on NGOs in the country had inhibited humanitarian assistance to Sudan. International charitable organizations have nonetheless managed to establish themselves in the country. Organizations such as UNICEF Sudan, Save the Children, Mercy Corps and Plan International continue to provide vital aid in Sudan, even as the WFP ceased operations on Sunday. UNICEF Sudan, for example, remains the leading agency providing long-term humanitarian and developmental assistance to Sudan.
Sudan lies at the epicenter of the global nutrition crisis. And the current conflict in Sudan could exacerbate this issue. A collective of humanitarian organizations estimated in a 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan that 14.3 million people across Sudan required humanitarian aid in 2022. Of those in need, most are female, and more than half (7.8 million) are children. In January, UNICEF launched an ‘acceleration plan’ in Sudan and 11 other mainly sub-Saharan nations to prevent and treat ‘wasting’ in women and children. Women urgently need the delivery of this plan, as malnutrition afflicts approximately 25% of mothers across the region. Conflict in Sudan threatens to interrupt the work of organizations like UNICEF. Additionally, it makes it harder for mothers to access the vital care they need.
Governments and organizations all over the world have condemned the outbreak of conflict in Sudan. Head of the U.N. Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) Mr. Volker Perthes has warned that acts of violence disrupt the delivery of essential humanitarian assistance: “When incidents like this occur, it is women, men and children in desperate need of assistance who suffer the most.” As the withdrawal of the WFP from Sudan shows, violence directly impacts the provision of aid to Sudan’s most vulnerable. But while the suspension of operations by the World Food Program is a setback, efforts to address the nutrition crisis and support vulnerable populations in Sudan are ongoing. The resilience and dedication of these organizations UNICEF and Save the Children offer a glimmer of hope for a brighter future for the people of Sudan.
– Samuel Chambers