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Escalation of conflict underscores the risk of Famine ahead of the lean season’s peak

  • Key Message Update
  • Sudan
  • May 2024
Escalation of conflict underscores the risk of Famine ahead of the lean season’s peak

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • In May, humanitarian needs in Sudan remain devastatingly high in advance of the typical lean season (June-September). The escalation of fighting between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) on multiple fronts is resulting in massive displacement, civilian deaths and injuries, and further loss of livelihoods amid deteriorating economic conditions, especially in North Darfur. According to the Sudan Mobility Update, the protracted and newly internally displaced population has risen to nearly 10 million people, while refugee outflows reached approximately 2.1 million by the end of May. 
    • Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) are widespread across Greater Darfur, Greater Kordofan, Khartoum, Al Jazirah, Kassala, and parts of the southeast. The number of people facing Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) is expected to escalate significantly towards the peak of the lean season (August/September) in areas with high concentrations of displaced and conflict-affected households in hard-to-reach areas across Greater Darfur, particularly around El Fasher of North Darfur amid the ongoing siege, as well as in parts of South Kordofan and Khartoum. 
    • Areas of Greater Darfur and Khartoum face a risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5), as the severity of fighting and besiegement of some areas continues to substantially worsen households’ ability to access typical food and income sources and interfere with humanitarian access. While conflict is already accounted for in the most likely scenario, the risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) is predicated upon the use of tactics that ultimately completely isolate households from access to food assistance, community support, and remittances and restrict them from leaving in search of food and income, as this would rapidly lead to worsening levels of starvation, acute malnutrition, and hunger-related mortality that would breach the Famine (IPC Phase 5) thresholds. The siege of El Fasher in North Darfur warrants heightened alarm for this scenario, particularly among internally displaced persons (IDPs) in camps such as Zam Zam, Abu Shouk, and Al Salam, as these households already faced large food consumption deficits and will rapidly exhaust their coping capacity. 
    • Clashes in and around El Fasher have intensified since May 11. Conditions are increasingly dire amid indiscriminate shelling, use of heavy artillery, and targeted attacks on civilian neighborhoods, IDP camps, and public infrastructure, including electricity stations, markets, the Golo Water Reservoir, and the last remaining civilian hospital (South Hospital), which was forced to close on June 8 following RSF attacks. More than 200 civilians are estimated to have died and thousands wounded. On May 23 and 24, RSF reportedly attacked Abu Shouk camp, burning part of the camp and causing large-scale re-displacement of IDPs. In addition, analysis of satellite imagery on the outskirts of El Fasher has indicated systematic razing of villages that escalated in April and May causing loss of property and displacement. Massive levels of civilian displacement has been reported from El Fasher town in the direction of Tawila and Dar As Salam of North Darfur and Nyala of South Darfur. Food supplies are growing scarcer, resulting in skyrocketing prices: Between March and May, cereal prices in El Fasher increased by 15-25 percent, while prices of noncereal food items, such as sugar, edible oil, and cowpeas increased by 25-70 percent.
    • Intense fighting also continues in the capital, declining slightly in Omdurman following the SAF’s expansion of control since March, while escalating in Khartoum and Bahri as the SAF has increasingly launched offensives in these neighborhoods. In Al Jazirah, RSF has remained largely in control, terrorizing local communities across a number of localities, with the scale of atrocities most recently evidenced through the massacre of more than 100 civilians, including women and children in Wad Al-Nour village on June 5. Communities are also reporting rising instances of looting of fuel, crops, and livestock that is deepening the level of acute food insecurity throughout the state. In Greater Kordofan, fighting has continued between SAF and RSF for the 5th consecutive month in Babanusa, West Kordofan; southern localities of North Kordofan as RSF advances from the southeast towards El Obeid; and along the El Obeid-Kosti road as the SAF attempts to gain control of the route. 
    • Humanitarian access continues to be severely constrained by the fighting and direct obstruction by the belligerents, including via denial of travel permits or border crossing authorizations at Al Tina. According to the UN, nearly 1.1 million people were denied humanitarian assistance in May 2024 in Greater Kordofan (301,835), Greater Darfur (608,516), Khartoum (100,004), and Al Jazirah (98,000). The Adre border crossing with Chad remains officially closed, leaving only Al Tine crossing in North Darfur. With the escalation of the fighting across North Darfur and the long distances from Al Tina to hard-to-reach areas (estimated to take at least 2 weeks), this is greatly limiting the potential for scale up of critically needed assistance. 
    • Despite severe humanitarian access constraints, WFP has dispatched several convoys carrying over 1,200 metric tons for more than 117,000 people in parts of South and Central Darfur. In addition, the first cross-border flows of assistance from South Sudan into parts of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, as well as cross-frontline flows from Kosti in While Nile into South Kordofan, were achieved in May. Access to populations in El Fasher and surrounding localities of North Darfur remains cut-off. As the rainy season approaches which will further impede humanitarian access, WFP and partners anticipate scaling up cash assistance to 1.2 million people in 12 states as part of a broader expansion of their assistance response.
    • Trade flows and market functionality continued to be significantly disrupted across the country as presented in FEWS NET’s prior analysis. Informal cross-border flows of fuel and some food commodities including flour, high energy biscuits, and sugar coming from Chad, Libya, Central African Republic, and South Sudan are continuing, according to FEWS NET’s observations and key informant reports. However, quantities are small, and prices remain very high, particularly due to high costs of transportation and additional security risks. Moreover, these cross-border flows are also expected to slow down in the coming rainy season due to anticipated deterioration in road conditions. As part of the aforementioned scale-up of cash assistance, traders will also be supported in efforts to shore up market capacity as a critical source of food in the coming months, particularly in light of ongoing challenges to delivery of food assistance.   
    • In May, prices for staple cereals have continued to rise across most markets, driven by low supply following the below-average harvests, looting, and trade disruptions; atypically high demand with the early start of the lean season; and ongoing severe deterioration in economic conditions characterized by high inflation and continued local currency depreciation. Sorghum prices increased by an average of 16 percent compared to last month (April 2024) and are 90 percent higher than prices at the peak of 2023 lean season (September 2023). Kadugli and Ad Deain markets reported the highest price increases of 268 and 188 percent compared to the last lean season, respectively, driven by the low supply amid disruption of trade and above average demand from rising numbers of IDPs. Millet and wheat prices increased on average 8-10 percent compared to the last month (April 2024), remaining 150-160 percent higher than the pre-conflict period (March 2023) and 80-90 percent higher than last lean season. While livestock prices have also increased by 5-10 percent from April to May, they are not keeping pace with cereal price increases, compounding the deterioration in household purchasing capacity. 
    • The rains have yet to begin in Sudan, reflecting a slight delay in the southern most parts of Kordofan and Blue Nile. According to ensemble forecasts, seasonal cumulative rainfall is expected to be above-average due to the anticipated transition to La Niña conditions during the upcoming rainy season months (June to September). The risk of flooding, which typically peaks in August and September, is expected to be further aggravated by the release in May of large volumes of water from the Jinja Dam in Uganda, similar to volumes released in May 2020 under similar conditions of high water levels in Lake Victoria. According to an Alert released by the South Sudan government, this water is likely to reach the Sudd wetlands in 3 months before flowing onward to Sudan via White Nile State. Given the combination of these elements, there is an increased likelihood that seasonal flood extent this year will be above normal and likely similar to recent years of severe flooding in Sudan.

    Recommended citation: FEWS NET. Sudan Key Message Update May 2024: Escalation of conflict underscores the risk of Famine ahead of the lean season’s peak, 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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