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Conflict and food availability gap drive high needs amid earlier than usual lean season

  • Key Message Update
  • Sudan
  • March 2024
Conflict and food availability gap drive high needs amid earlier than usual lean season

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Humanitarian needs in Sudan continued to escalate during an atypically early start of the lean season by March, driven by the severe impacts of nearly a year of fighting between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) on the economy, trade, services, and livelihoods. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) is widespread across the country, with Emergency (IPC Phase 4) expanding across Greater Darfur, Greater Kordofan, Khartoum, Red Sea, Kassala, and parts of the southeast. Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) is expected to emerge as the lean season progresses among households in parts of West Darfur, Khartoum, and among the displaced population more broadly, particularly in hard-to-reach areas of Greater Darfur. 
    • Of highest concern remain the areas most impacted by conflict in parts of West Darfur, Omdurman in Khartoum, and areas hosting protracted displaced and often re-displaced people in Greater Darfur. Populations in these areas have experienced some of the most intense bouts of conflict that have limited population movement in search of income and food and severely restricted access by humanitarian actors. For the displaced in Greater Darfur, this comes on top of prior years of conflict that eroded their asset base and diminished their coping capacity. In the context of this worsening food security emergency, FEWS NET assesses that there is a credible risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) in these areas if actions by armed parties – either through deliberate isolation of households or through escalation of intense conflict that blocks informal cross-border trade flows and cuts off access to food assistance, community support, and remittances – prevent households from migrating to safer areas in search of food and income for a sustained time. 
    • Amid ongoing conflict across key hotspots, levels of population displacement have escalated to 6.6 million internally displaced and over 2 million externally displaced as of April 2. In March and early April, intense fighting continued in Khartoum, with escalating attacks in Al Jazirah, North Darfur, and across Greater Kordofan that has led to increased displacement. In Khartoum, fighting intensified in Bahri, while continuing in Al-Wadi of Omdurman and parts of downtown Khartoum amid increased use of airstrikes, reducing population mobility and further affecting livelihoods and economic activity across the tri-city area. In the southeast, SAF with support from the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) launched an offensive into Al Jazirah on April 7, which will likely exacerbate already severe reports of atrocities against civilians and high levels of displacement. In Greater Kordofan, conflict between SAF and RSF has remained intense around Babanusa while reducing around Dilling in South Kordofan; conflict in these areas is likely to continue as SAF, RSF, and SPLM-North seek to further consolidate and expand territorial control. In North Darfur, tensions and fighting have further deteriorated with repeated clashes between RSF and SAF, including the use of airstrikes, in El Fasher, Kebkabiya, and Kutum, hitting some displacement sites.
    • Trade flows remain hindered, severely aggravating the distribution of available food from surplus- to deficit-producing areas amidst expectations of a large national cereal availability gap. Cross-border flows are expected to help mitigate the gap somewhat, though data on imported volumes is difficult to obtain. Recent media and partner reports highlight that cross-border trade into Sudan is continuing to occur – for example, a report by the Risk Valley Institute reported reversal to trade as South Sudanese traders are now bringing goods to the border from Juba and selling them to Darfuri traders, enticed by the high prices in Sudan. Nonetheless, these flows face restrictions that will likely limit the scale, though not completely halt flows. In South Sudan, the government has reportedly restricted exports of food and fuel, citing domestic shortages and rising prices; in Chad, the border is formally closed, but anecdotal reports indicate that informal flows are still occurring. Exports of livestock are also continuing at higher-than-expected levels given its importance as a remaining revenue source for the government and the high demand from Saudi Arabia for Ramadan and the upcoming Hajj. However, livestock are being mostly sourced from eastern Sudan given the difficulty of moving livestock from the west to Port Sudan. 
    • In March, prices for staple cereals continue to rise across most markets driven by below average harvests and trade disruptions.  These atypically early, steep increases in basic foods since February combined with limited income earning opportunities are accelerating the deterioration in household purchasing capacity. Sorghum prices increased by 15 percent on average compared to last month (February 2024), and nearly doubled relative to peak 2023 lean season (August/September) prices in some markets such as Kadugli and El Obeid. In other markets across the country, prices increased between 30 and 80 percent over peak 2023 lean season prices for sorghum, millet, and wheat. 
    • Prices of livestock also continue to rise across most monitored markets, driven by the relative increase in demand for export during the last three months. The most significant increases are occurring in eastern markets given their proximity to Port Sudan for exporting, as well as in El Fasher where informal export demand from Libya is pushing up prices. In March, livestock prices increased by, on average, 10 percent compared to last month, with Kassala market recording the highest increase of 20 and 75 percent for goats and sheep, respectively. When looking at the goat-to-sorghum terms-of-trade, purchasing power has generally shown a trend of improvement for livestock owners over the last few months in Kassala, Gedaref, and El Fasher, but has deteriorated in markets such as El Obeid, Kadugli, and Nyala.
    • The delivery of humanitarian assistance remains extremely challenging, with access to some areas in Greater Darfur, Greater Kordofan, and Al Jazirah crucially hampered by funding constraints, insecurity, logistical challenges, and disputes among warring parties (SAF and RSF) on who should control proposed humanitarian corridors. According to OCHA’s recent reports in February and March, assistance has yet to resume in Al Jazirah or Khartoum states, and all crossline movements have remained suspended since the attacks on Wad Madani in mid-December 2023. While the government of Sudan’s approval to re-open one border crossing with Chad at Al Tina in North Darfur has enabled humanitarians to recommence distributions and prepositioning in Greater Darfur, with two convoys delivering assistance in late March, the continued closure of the rest of the border crossings will greatly limit reach and scale-up of assistance. The government has also approved the cross-border flow of assistance from Renk in South Sudan to Kosti in White Nile of Sudan, as well as the use of airports for aid delivery though operations have yet to begin. A land route from Port Sudan to El Fasher via Atbara has also been opened, though RSF has objected and has allegedly interfered with convoys dispatched along the route. 

    Recommended citation: FEWS NET. Sudan Key Message Update March 2024: Conflict and food availability gap drive high needs amid earlier than usual lean season, 2024.

    This Key Message Update provides a high-level analysis of current acute food insecurity conditions and any changes to FEWS NET's latest projection of acute food insecurity outcomes in the specified geography. Learn more here.

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