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Unprecedented fighting between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which erupted on April 15, is expected to drive increasingly severe levels of acute food insecurity in Sudan during the approaching June to September lean season. The direct impacts of the clashes on urban populations in contested cities – of which Khartoum and El Geneina are of highest concern – are dire, and the extensive disruption to markets and trade, the banking system, basic infrastructure, and humanitarian operations is expected to indirectly lead to worsening food security in rural areas, including via a reduction in agricultural cultivation. If the conflict continues to paralyze markets, basic services, and livelihoods across Sudan in the near-to-medium term, then FEWS NET anticipates the number of people in need of food aid would most likely rise to around 10-12 million during the lean season. Widespread Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected, and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are likely to emerge in parts of greater Darfur and greater Kordofan by August/September. An immediate cessation of the conflict is needed to save lives and livelihoods; at a minimum, parties to the conflict should adhere to agreed-upon ceasefire periods and the Jeddah Declaration to protect civilians and facilitate a rapid scale-up of food and nutrition assistance to prevent severe hunger and to mitigate the further erosion of local livelihoods.
Available information suggests the conflict has so far led to hundreds of civilian deaths, although the number is likely much higher given under-reporting. Over 1.3 million people to date have been newly or secondarily displaced within Sudan or fled the country, building on the already high burden of displacement prior to the conflict (roughly 3.8 million people). Moreover, the conflict has caused extensive damage to healthcare, water, electricity, telecommunications, and banking services; drastically slowed imports and internal trade flows, leading to shortages of basic goods and soaring prices; disrupted households’ ability to earn income and access food; and crippled humanitarian operations. Armed forces have widely looted and occupied household property, while sky-rocketing fuel prices – with reports of prices surpassing 80 USD/gallon – are limiting the ability of many people, particularly the poor, to flee to safer areas. While the SAF-RSF Agreement on a Short-Term Ceasefire and Humanitarian Arrangements calls for a 7-day ceasefire as of May 22 and reiterates commitment to the Jedda Declaration, the failure of past ceasefires, the strategic objectives of SAF and RSF leadership, and the difficulty of controlling ground forces suggest a permanent truce is unlikely in the coming months. Sporadic clashes continue to occur in contested cities around the country, but the brunt of the conflict has fallen on Khartoum and the capital of West Darfur, El Geneina.
Active fighting, bombardment, and widespread looting of markets, warehouses, and private and public property across Khartoum – focused particularly in areas with strategic resources in downtown Khartoum, Khartoum North, Bahri, and Omdurman – are severely restricting economic activity, disrupting market functionality, and limiting access to cash amid ongoing bank closures and delayed salary payments. The urban poor, who depend largely on daily wage labor and petty trade for income with little if any savings, are particularly impacted by the restrictions on movement, closure of businesses, and inability to find daily work. Supply shortages and other factors have simultaneously led to price spikes for food and non-food essentials of up to 135 percent. This dramatic deterioration in purchasing power is particularly alarming given that most urban households primarily purchase their food, and none had the opportunity to stock up on goods before the unanticipated outbreak of fighting. If the level of insecurity and fighting continues to prevent essential trade flows, cut off humanitarian access, and limit household movement, FEWS NET assesses that area-level Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes will persist, and the number of households experiencing large food consumption gaps indicative of Emergency (IPC Phase 4) will also increase.
In West Darfur, and in particular in the capital of El Geneina and surrounding environs, access to food and income among the urban poor and internally displaced people (IDPs) is similarly being severely undercut by violent conflict, widespread destruction and looting of public and private property and markets, and the suspension of humanitarian food assistance deliveries since mid-April. Acute food insecurity was already pronounced in El Geneina prior to the start of the current conflict, as the area hosts nearly half of the total IDP population of West Darfur (approximately 490,850 people) and has a long history of intercommunal conflict that the SAF-RSF fighting has further inflamed. While the city is a peri-urban area located in an agropastoral livelihood system, the majority of protracted IDPs lack productive assets to engage in agricultural activities, leaving them heavily reliant on food assistance. Since April 15, 248,625 people have been newly displaced within West Darfur and more than 80,000 people have fled to Chad. The previously and newly displaced population have limited capacity to cope with the looting of IDP camps, spiking food prices, and lack of access to food assistance. If conflict and insecurity persist and food aid is largely absent for a prolonged period, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes will likely emerge in El Geneina by August.
In other rural areas of Sudan, local wheat and sorghum stocks have mitigated the severity of household-level impacts thus far; however, acute food insecurity is expected to worsen during the lean season as rural households deplete their stocks and increasingly shift to purchasing food. Khartoum plays a central role in the trade flows of imported and exported goods and the redistribution of domestic production between surplus- and deficit-producing areas. The clashes in Khartoum, insecurity along trade routes and in smaller urban hubs, and trade interruptions at Port Sudan are disrupting these flows and market functionality across the country, and staple grain prices are expected to escalate 200-700 percent above the five-year average over the coming year. Moreover, prolonged disruptions in export flows of key commodities, such as gold, livestock, and gum Arabic, will likely impact the incomes of not only the actors along each value chain, but also poor rural households who depend on labor opportunities provided by the middle and better-off wealth groups who work in these sectors. Finally, while direct fighting between RSF and SAF is not currently expected in rural areas, area planted for the 2023 cropping season is expected to decline due to the looting of banks and resultant cash shortages, which will most likely disrupt input financing, especially in irrigated and semi-mechanized areas. If the reach of food assistance remains severely limited in western Sudan, then FEWS NET expects Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes in parts of greater Darfur and greater Kordofan, where aid deliveries were previously planned to prevent severe coping strategies and large food consumption gaps at the peak of the lean season.
While detailed information on the intensity and location of the conflict’s impacts is relatively limited, based on the information that is available and an assumption that a meaningful ceasefire is unlikely in the coming months, FEWS NET would assess that the population in need of food assistance in Sudan will most likely rise to about 10-12 million people during the June to September 2023 lean season. Furthermore, the large-scale destruction and disruption of health, WASH, and nutrition infrastructure and services are expected to lead to an increase in disease incidence and reduction in the prevention and treatment of malnutrition, raising the likelihood of atypically high levels of acute malnutrition and mortality due to both food and non-food factors. The areas of highest concern include the epicenters of conflict in Khartoum and West Darfur, along with rural areas of greater Darfur and greater Kordofan where household capacity to cope with sharply rising food prices in the absence of external assistance is very limited. Current levels of humanitarian assistance are low and, as of May 21, WFP has only been able to deliver food to nearly 458,000 displaced people and host community residents in Gedaref, Al Jezira, Kassala, White Nile, North Darfur, and East Darfur. While humanitarians plan to scale up deliveries to 4.9 million people nationally in the coming months, they will likely face considerable challenges to meet it amid precarious security conditions, significant looting, loss of humanitarian assets, and destruction of facilities. Immediate action must be taken to, at minimum, uphold the Jeddah Declaration of Commitment to Protect the Civilians of Sudan and support the urgent scale-up of food and nutrition assistance to civilians.
Recommended citation: FEWS NET. Sudan Food Security Alert, May 24, 2023: Sustained ceasefire and aid corridor urgently needed to prevent severe hunger, 2023.