World ignores Sudan hunger crisis; 230,000 children and mothers could die in coming months

“This is the largest sort of mass mortality crisis that we are facing in the world and the largest that we have probably faced for many decades.”

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SOURCEDemocracy Now!

Sudan is on track to become the world’s worst hunger crisis, according to the United Nations. For over a year, fighting between the Sudanese military and the rival Rapid Support Forces has disrupted the country, displacing over 8 million people who experience extreme hunger in the areas with the most intense fighting. The increasing demand comes as the U.N.’s appeal for $2.7 billion for Sudan is less than 5% funded. Funding is also drying up in Chad, where some 1.2 million Sudanese have taken refuge. “This is the largest sort of mass mortality crisis that we are facing in the world and the largest that we have probably faced for many decades,” says Alex de Waal, the author of Mass Starvation: The History and Future of Famine, who laments the “shocking” cuts to the World Food Program that is essential to the global emergency response system. “If it doesn’t work, we are going to find ourselves facing the kinds of crises of mass mortality that we have simply not seen for half a century or longer.”

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We now turn to Sudan, where around half the population has become reliant on food aid as the United Nations warns the war-torn country is on track to become the world’s worst hunger crisis.

EDEM WOSORNU: Malnutrition is soaring to alarming levels and is already claiming children’s lives. A recent MSF report revealed that one child is dying every two hours in Zamzam camp in El Fasher, North Darfur. Our humanitarian partners estimate that in the coming weeks and months somewhere in the region of around 222,000 children could die from malnutrition. And with the estimated — WHO estimates that more than 70% of health facilities are not functional.

AMY GOODMAN: The conflict between the Sudanese military and the rival Rapid Support Forces, or RSF, erupted nearly a year ago, on April 15, 2023. It’s displaced over 8 million people. Around 90% of the population facing emergency levels of food insecurity in Sudan are in Khartoum, Darfur and Kordofan, areas which have seen some of the most intense fighting. But the U.N.’s appeal for $2.7 billion for Sudan is less than 5% funded. Aid is also drying up in Chad, where some 1.2 million Sudanese have taken refuge. The war has also led to many reports of armed forces using rape and sexual violence as a weapon. And some 19 million children have been deprived of school.

Alex de Waal, famine is your area of expertise. You’re executive director of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University and author of the book Mass Starvation: The History and Future of Famine. What concerns you most about what’s happening in Sudan right now?

ALEX DE WAAL: Sudan is a different kind of food crisis and famine compared to Gaza. This is one of enormous magnitude. The sheer numbers that are afflicted are hard to grapple with. Sudan is a country of almost 50 million people. Half of them are in emergency situation now. You said earlier reliant on food aid. Frankly, unfortunately, the food aid is not there. Even as we speak, the World Food Programme, which is the largest food aid producer, is cutting its budget, is cutting its staff by 30%, because it’s not getting the money it needs. It’s not a perfect system by any means, but it’s the only system that we’ve got.

And what particularly alarms me about Sudan are really three things. Number one is that unlike previous food crises in Sudan, the actual core of the economy is being destroyed. The breadbasket of Sudan is not functioning, is not growing food. Secondly, it’s a crisis not just in Sudan. Most of the neighbors are affected. You mentioned Chad. Also South Sudan, formerly part of Sudan, is also facing a major food emergency, and Ethiopia next door at the same time. And we’ve never seen so many neighboring countries in this region descending into food emergency at the same time. And this is all happening while the international emergency system is being squeezed. It’s facing major cuts. We are simply not responding as required. It’s quite, quite calamitous.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to a clip from UNICEF, which warns hundreds of thousands of Sudanese children are suffering from severe malnutrition. This is Jill Lawler, chief of field operations and emergency for UNICEF in Sudan.

JILL LAWLER: The numbers of acutely malnourished children are rising, and the lean season hasn’t even begun. Nearly 3.7 million children are projected to be acutely malnourished this year in Sudan, including 730,000 who need lifesaving treatment. The needs for children in Khartoum alone are massive. But this is also true in Darfur, where I was last month on a cross-border mission through Chad. The scale and magnitude of needs for children across the country are simply staggering. Sudan is now the world’s largest displacement crisis. And some of the most vulnerable children are in the hardest-to-reach places.

AMY GOODMAN: So, how is this remedied, Alex de Waal? Again, nearly 230,000 children, pregnant mothers and new mothers could die, it’s being predicted, in the next months due to hunger.

ALEX DE WAAL: Indeed, this is the largest sort of mass mortality crisis that we are facing in the world, and the largest that we have probably faced for many decades, certainly the largest since I started working on this topic 40 years ago at the time of the Ethiopian and Sudanese famines, that many will remember from the Live Aid concerts.

How is it to be stopped? I mean, the two most immediate things are a ceasefire and the end to the destruction of what is necessary to sustain life and produce food in Sudan. And there doesn’t seem to be much sign of that. There’s not really much pressure on the warring parties to come to any sort of even basic agreement. They seem to want to continue to fight it out. And various countries are pouring in arms into the country to escalate the conflict. But the other is also to fund this humanitarian operation, that is, as you mentioned, totally underfunded at the moment. There are almost no resources available to provide the necessities for people.

AMY GOODMAN: And, in fact, the World Food Programme — you know, we were talking about Gaza. We were talking about the massive cuts to UNRWA. The World Food Programme of the United Nations has also massive cuts.

ALEX DE WAAL: Indeed, it’s shocking. I was trying to talk just a few days ago to some old colleagues who work on these issues, and I find that they’ve been reassigned or they’ve lost their jobs. We only have one global emergency response system at the moment, and that is centered upon the World Food Programme. And so we need to make it work, because if it doesn’t work, we are going to find ourselves facing the kinds of crises of mass mortality that we have simply not seen for half a century or longer.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Alex de Waal, we thank you so much for being with us, executive director of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University, author of the book Mass Starvation: The History and Future of Famine. We’ll link to your pieces on Sudan and Gaza and more.

That does it for our show. Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud and Hana Elias. Our executive director is Julie Crosby. Special thanks to Becca Staley, Jon Randolph, Paul Powell, Mike Di Filippo, Miguel Nogueira. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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