What's In Blue

Briefing on Food Security Risks in Sudan

Tomorrow morning (20 March), the Security Council will hold a briefing on food insecurity in Sudan under the “Protection of civilians in armed conflict” agenda item. Briefings are expected from OCHA Director of Operations and Advocacy Edem Wosornu, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Deputy Director-General Maurizio Martina, and World Food Programme (WFP) Deputy Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer Carl Skau. Guyana and Switzerland, the Council’s co-focal points on conflict and hunger, joined by Sierra Leone and Slovenia, requested the meeting after OCHA sent to Council members a white note on food insecurity in Sudan, dated 15 March. Sudan is expected to participate under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.

OCHA submitted the white note in accordance with resolution 2417 of 24 May 2018, which requested the Secretary-General to report swiftly when “the risk of conflict-induced famine and wide-spread food insecurity” occurs. Over the last 11 months, Sudan has been grappling with the devastating humanitarian consequences of fighting that erupted on 15 April 2023 between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), headed by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Sudan’s military leader and chairperson of the Transitional Sovereignty Council, and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary group led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (known as Hemeti). As at 15 March, more than 14,790 people had reportedly been killed since the onset of the conflict, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that collects conflict-related data.

The OCHA white note says that nearly 18 million people across Sudan are currently facing acute food insecurity, described by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC)—used by relief agencies to measure hunger levels—as crisis level conditions or worse (IPC Phase 3 or above). This is the highest recorded share of people facing this level of food insecurity during Sudan’s harvest season (October to February). Of this total, five million people are currently experiencing emergency levels of food insecurity (IPC Phase 4), some of whom may face catastrophic conditions (IPC Phase 5) over the coming months, particularly in West and Central Darfur, according to the white note. Referring to the IPC’s December 2023 projection, the note says that the most highly food insecure populations in Sudan have been identified in areas where conflict has been particularly intense, including in Al Jazirah, Darfur, Khartoum, and Kordofan.

The white note further points out that vulnerable groups—including women, children, and internally displaced persons (IDPs)—remain at particular risk. It notes that approximately 730,000 children in Sudan, including over 240,000 in Darfur, are projected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition, the most severe form of childhood malnutrition. Conditions are especially dire in hard-to-reach areas, which host nearly three quarters of the country’s 4.7 million acutely malnourished children and pregnant or breastfeeding women in urgent need of support, according to the white note.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Wosornu may describe how the fighting is driving the food crisis, which the white note attributes to several factors, including the conflict’s impact on agricultural production, damage to major infrastructure and livelihoods, disruptions to trade flows, inflation, lack of humanitarian access and large-scale displacement. Wosornu and some Council members may underscore the significant deterioration of the situation as the conflict intensifies and expands to new areas of the country. According to OCHA’s 23 February humanitarian update, approximately 8.1 million people have been displaced across Sudan since the start of the conflict, of whom 1.8 million have fled to neighbouring countries, including the Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Libya, and South Sudan.

The briefers and several Council members are expected to highlight impediments to humanitarian access and call on the warring parties to enable full and rapid access through all modalities, including cross-line and cross-border. The white notes states that cross-line deliveries have been severely constrained not only by hostilities but also by several other factors, including attacks on humanitarian workers, limited commitment by the warring parties to facilitate access, lootings, and a collapse of civil order and law enforcement structures. Since the onset of the conflict, more than 1,000 incidents related to humanitarian access restrictions have been recorded, according to the white note. While 71 percent of these incidents have been attributed to the conflict or intentional violence against humanitarian assets or personnel, 21 percent of incidents relate to bureaucratic access impediments. Since the outbreak of hostilities, 20 humanitarian aid workers have been killed and 33 injured, and 147 humanitarian assets (that is, warehouses and offices) have been looted.

The white note says that cross-border aid delivery into Sudan from Chad—which started in July 2023—remains an essential part of humanitarian operations, providing life-saving assistance to 1.5 million people in need. On 21 February, the Sudanese government announced its decision to suspend cross-border aid delivery from eastern Chad through the Adre border crossing point, limiting the UN’s humanitarian operations in Darfur. Subsequently, on 5 March, the Sudanese government sent a letter to the Security Council conveying its decision to facilitate the entry and delivery of humanitarian aid through several routes, including from Chad through the Tina border crossing; from South Sudan through the Renk border crossing; and through humanitarian flights accessing airports in the cities of Al Fasher, Kadugli, and Al Obeid. At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are expected to call for full and immediate implementation of this decision.

In an 18 March New York Times opinion piece, US Permanent Representative to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield emphasised the need for immediate Council action to ensure the delivery of life-saving assistance across Sudan. In this regard, she said that the Security Council “should consider all tools at its disposal, including authorising aid to move from Chad and South Sudan into Sudan”, while adding that the US is prepared to help lead this initiative.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Wosornu might call for immediate action by the Security Council and other member states to prevent conflict-induced famine in Sudan. She may reiterate the white note’s recommendations, which call on the Council and other member states to use their influence in order to:

Martina and Skau are also expected to speak about the scale and severity of conflict-induced food insecurity and the risk of famine in Sudan. They are likely to refer to a recent joint FAO/WFP update prepared for Council members on “Monitoring food security in Palestine and the Sudan”. FAO and WFP officials briefed Council members on the report informally on 19 February. According to the report, conflict and other organised violence remain the primary drivers of life-threatening food insecurity in Sudan. At the same time, access to people in need is one of the greatest challenges facing humanitarian partners and stakeholders, the report adds.

Martina is expected to speak about the conflict’s effects on food systems in Sudan. The FAO/WFP report notes that Sudan’s production capacity has been severely compromised because of damage, destruction, and looting of critical civilian infrastructure, private property, food-manufacturing facilities, and markets. As a result, production and economic activities have been brought to a halt in certain areas. For instance, the eruption of hostilities in Al Jazirah in December 2023 and their further expansion into parts of Sennar, White Nile, and South Kordofan in January jeopardised the main seasonal harvesting and led to the destruction of key irrigation infrastructure in some areas. (For more information, see our 21 December 2023 What’s in Blue story and the Sudan brief in our February Monthly Forecast.)

Several members are expected to reiterate their call for an immediate ceasefire and remind the conflict parties of their obligations under resolution 2417. These include the resolution’s call on all parties to armed conflict to comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law regarding the protection of civilians and their responsibility to protect objects indispensable for food production and distribution. Members may also reference the prohibition, as recalled in resolution 2417, against the use of starvation as a method of warfare.

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