In the second of CCN’s series of articles on the tragic situation we examine the dire humanitarian crisis that has engulfed the nation since the overthrow of Omar Al-Bashir.
Sudan’s current crises have roots in the 2019 ousting of long-time authoritarian leader Omar al-Bashir following months of mass public protest. After al-Bashir’s fall, military and civilian leaders formed a transitional Sovereignty Council to guide Sudan towards its first democratic elections. However, these revolutionary gains were short-lived.
On October 25, 2021, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan staged a coup d’etat that dissolved government bodies and detained civilian leadership. This act violated agreed power-sharing agreements and incited widespread public dissent. Protest crackdowns followed, marked by excessive force. By November 16, 2021, medics recorded 15 civilian deaths while the Central Committee tallied over 300 injured. As demonstrations continued through 2022, the death toll mounted.
The coup also exacerbated conflict between al-Burhan’s allies – the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – and factions supporting civilian rule, like the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). As violence erupted, particularly in Blue Nile and South Kordofan regions, the UN warned of “mass displacement.” By August 2022, 45,000 had already fled resurgent warfare “with many more expected.”
A key force undermining Sudan’s democratic transition is the notorious Rapid Support Forces (RSF). Formed from the Janjaweed militias linked to the Darfur genocide, the RSF is commanded by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, an influential coup supporter retaining control of lucrative gold mining and other industries.
A September 2022 UN human rights analysis, verified that during the brutal June 2019 Khartoum massacre, “the RSF killed at least 100 civilians.” Witnesses described coordinated attacks with soldiers blocking exits while vehicle-mounted guns fired directly into fleeing crowds, followed by beatings, sexual violence, and dumping of bodies into the Nile River. No perpetrators have yet faced accountability.
Additionally, the RSF continues attacking rural communities to secure agricultural and mineral resources. For example, Amnesty International cited witnesses describing RSF raids on villages in Blue Nile during May and June 2022 killing 17 people, wounding 30 more, looting livestock and crops, while displacing thousands. Such actions exacerbate hunger driving Sudan’s crisis.
Meanwhile as the nation fractures, climate shocks worsen humanitarian needs. Since 2020, flooding impacted over 560,000 citizens, according to UN estimates. Torrents wash away new harvests deepening food deficit. By 2022’s rainy season, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) projected up to 17 million Sudanese could face emergency levels of hunger given low crop yields, conflict, and macroeconomic decay. Over 2 million children are malnourished.
Healthcare access is severed for many as health facilities close amidst violence or fall into disrepair. A Unicef study estimated 15 million lacked basic healthcare following the coup. Facilities still operating face medical supply shortages. Doctors estimate Sudanese hospitals now at best run around “40 percent capacity.”
Hyperinflation, with rates approaching a staggering 700%, has left ordinary Sudanese struggling to secure even the most basic necessities. The skyrocketing cost of living has pushed countless families to the precipice of destitution, further exacerbating the already dire hunger crisis.
In late 2022, the UN appealed for $1.9 billion in international aid. But donor fatigue means just 27% of needed funds came through. UN Humanitarian Coordinator Eddie Rowe emphasized “the international community cannot afford to abandon Sudan” as it faces its worst crisis in decades with millions imperiled by the collision of conflict, rights abuses, hunger, and collapsing services.
As Sudan enterd 2023, its overlapping political and economic crises showed no signs of abating, which left civilians facing ongoing violence, hunger, and lack of services.In January 2023, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned that over the past month, “Intercommunal clashes and violence against civilians grew in frequency and intensity in Darfur as well as in Blue Nile and Kassala states.” Only halfway through the dry season, nearly 65,000 people have fled violence across Sudan.
Just a week into 2023, Médecins Sans Frontières teams in West Darfur “treated 173 wounded patients” while the United Nations noted “half the population of the Krinding camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) were forced to flee” amidst raging violence. The International Rescue Committee underscores that across Sudan, “4.3 million people remain internally displaced.”
The humanitarian crisis in Sudan has also taken a horrific toll on women and girls. Following the RSF’s seizure of Wad Madani, reports emerged of women in the area desperately seeking contraceptive and abortion pills, haunted by the paramilitary’s gruesome history of sexual violence, and the use of rape as a tool of revenge.
In a nation where abortion is illegal, survivors of sexual assault have shockingly few options, leading to an epidemic of social stigma, trauma, depression, and a litany of other psychological scars. Despite the RSF’s purported “zero tolerance” for sexual and gender-based violence, reports of rape continue to surface in cities under their iron grip. Nonetheless in December 2022 alone, “some 365 rape cases were reported in West Darfur,” according to the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Khardiata Lo N’diaye.
Food insecurity continues to deepen with the World Food Programme now projected that by April to May 2023, up “to 18.7 million people might face acute food insecurity.” According to UNICEF, “Over 1.6 million children under 5 years will be acutely malnourished in Sudan in 2023.”
Yet humanitarian funding fails to match needs. By January 2023, acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Nada Al-Nashif, decried that “the 2023 UN humanitarian response plan for Sudan has only received about 3% in funding to date.” With needs rising, she pleaded, “I urge donors to help humanitarian actors on the ground prevent more suffering.”
As Sudan continues struggling with interwoven political, economic and security breakdowns, civilians bear the brunt through violence, hunger and deprivation that require vastly stepped up national reforms paired with international assistance and accountability measures.