Sudan’s Year-Long Civil War Set to Cause Catastrophic Famine By Summer

By Published on April 15, 2024

Food and hospitality. Those were two of the things that stood out to me most when I traveled around Sudan by public transportation in 2022.

When I think of Sudan, I think of the scent of beans wafting from a pot in a crowded open-air market at night. Every town I visited had a bean stand, usually in the central market near the bus station, where people would gather to socialize late into the night. In the cities, little hamburger shops were ubiquitous, marked by identical signs: red and white, with a Coca Cola logo and an image of a plate and silverware. All the burgers were made with barbeque sauce and a fried egg.

In the rural areas, if you walked past a stranger’s home at dinnertime, you might be invited in. The home-cooked food was simple and hearty — often a collection of separate ingredients like beans, cheese, onions, tomatoes, and so forth, combined however you liked by pinching a mouthful in a piece of bread.

That Sudan is gone now. Today marks the first anniversary of the start of the Sudanese Civil War. The country stands on the verge of catastrophic famine.

A Nation Destroyed

On April 15, 2023, the entire country dissolved into chaos when rival factions of the authoritarian government started openly vying for power. Now, a year into the war, the situation is bleaker than ever.

The war has caused agricultural production to stop in many places. It has also prevented aid from entering the country, and it’s not clear that all the aid that is still getting in is actually reaching people. (The Sudanese government did not answer Aljazeera when asked if they were taking advantage of aid dispatches or preventing the aid from reaching areas held by the rival faction.)

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As things stand now, the UN’s World Food Programme (WFO) reports that only 1 person in 20 can afford a full meal in Sudan. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that 18 million people are facing “acute food insecurity.”

These are the worst numbers ever reported in Sudan during a harvest season —which is saying something, if you remember past news out of Sudan.

Looming Famine

As Sudan moves further on from the last harvest (fall of 2023), stores of food will begin to run out. The situation is only going to get more dire.

To make matters worse, the coming rainy season is expected to prevent aid from reaching many areas.

Meanwhile, major sources of aid (such as the U.S. government) have slashed funding to the WFO. The organization doesn’t have the money to cover operational costs, even assuming it has access to the places it needs to go.

The result could be that this summer, Sudan will see the world’s largest famine in decades.

From Crisis to Catastrophe

Roughly 5 million Sudanese people are currently at Emergency levels of food insecurity, according to the UN’s official classification system. This level is worse than Crisis, and it means that people are already dying from illnesses due to malnutrition.

When summer comes around, most of those 5 million people are expected to enter Catastrophe/Famine (IPC 5) levels of hunger. Catastrophe/Famine level in the UN’s terminology basically means “starving to death.”

The result could be that this summer, Sudan will see the world’s largest famine in decades.

An analysis by the Clingendael Institute in the Netherlands published in February indicates that famine is certain in Sudan this summer. The group estimates that 7 million people will be in Catastrophe levels of hunger in June 2024, and 32 million people in Emergency conditions. Even in their best case scenario, 80% of the population of the country is expected to be in Emergency conditions or worse, compared with only 10% in February.

This will have consequences outside Sudan. Already, more than a million refugees have fled to neighboring countries Chad and South Sudan, which are themselves war-torn and impoverished. This will add stress on those countries atop the economic consequences of the war stopping Sudan’s food and agricultural exports.

The Selfless Forgotten Ones

“The war in Sudan risks triggering the world’s largest hunger crisis,” WFP director Cindy McCain declared recently. “20 years ago, Darfur [western Sudan] was the world’s largest hunger crisis and the world rallied to respond. But today, the people of Sudan have been forgotten. Millions of lives and the peace and stability of an entire region are at stake.”

Meanwhile, the generosity and community spirit of the Sudanese people hasn’t gone away. The network of “neighborhood resistance committees” that organized the peaceful protests against Sudan’s former authoritarian government have been repurposed as food distribution programs, called Emergency Response Rooms (ERR).

However, they can only do so much. Aljazeera reports that one network in Bahri/Khartoum North is only able to provide one meal a day to around 45,000 people. The selflessness of the Sudanese community might keep some people from starving to death, but sharing only goes so far—if there isn’t food, there isn’t food.

You can help! Donate to famine relief efforts through Samaritan’s Purse.


Peter Rowden is a friend of The Stream living in the Middle East.

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