Sudan Conflict Contributing to Food Crises Beyond Country’s Borders
Local governments, communities “straining” to host refugees
Over 5,000 people have been killed and millions displaced as a result of ongoing conflict in Sudan, and related impacts on food security are being felt beyond the country’s borders in neighboring South Sudan, Chad and Ethiopia.
Since the outbreak of conflict between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) on April 15, more than 5 million people within Sudan have lost or fled their homes.
According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), the movement of more than 4 million internally displaced people (IDP) into host communities is placing considerable strain on already limited food resources in areas like Sudan’s Northern and River Nile states.
In addition, more than 1 million refugees have fled to neighboring countries, most of whom have entered Egypt (about 317,000 people), Chad (over 420,000 people) and South Sudan (about 292,000 people).
“Conflict and hunger-induced migration is an extreme coping strategy that deprives people of their land, livelihoods and usual social support systems,” FEWS NET program manager Phil Steffen said.
Amid the influx of Sudanese refugees into eastern Chad, the food security situation has steadily worsened due to strains on food reserves, disruptions to cross-border trade, limited job opportunities and the depletion of natural resources.
“Chad was already hosting some 407,000 refugees from Sudan. Now, there are even more,” Steffen said. “Local governments and communities are straining to host a large influx of refugees, and tensions are high between long-term refugees and new arrivals who compete for the same finite resources while emergency food aid is underfunded.”
In addition to refugees, some soldiers and members of security forces have reportedly crossed the border from Sudan into Chad. As armed personnel and weapons continue flowing into the country, concern for security remains high.
“Sudan’s western border has long been extremely porous, allowing for the relatively free and unchecked movement of arms and militia fighters alike,” according to the Economist Intelligence Unit. “A significant inflow of refugees and militia fighters into Chad will exacerbate the already poor humanitarian and security situation in the country.”
South Sudan, which is considered one of the world’s most food insecure countries, has experienced similarly negative effects as the arrival of refugees and returnees has impacted access to already limited food, water and other basic needs.
The conflict has also disrupted cross-border trade and market operations, contributing to elevated food prices in South Sudan and further maintaining high levels of acute food insecurity in northern parts of the country bordering Sudan.
Livelihoods in South Sudan had already been disrupted as a result of years of conflict and floods that occurred between 2019-2022. Many households are now entirely dependent on food assistance and fish to meet their daily needs, and FEWS NET projected over 60% of the population of South Sudan would be acutely food insecure through the end of September.
Sudanese refugees have also fled to neighboring Ethiopia, with more people expected to arrive as the conflict continues. Amid the pause in humanitarian food assistance in Ethiopia, this could further place pressure on markets and increase food prices.
Effects of conflict felt across urban, rural Sudan
While direct and indirect effects of the conflict are being felt in both urban and rural areas throughout Sudan, Khartoum and large urban centers across Greater Kordofan and Greater Darfur have borne the brunt of the fighting to date. Sustained heavy fighting has caused considerable collateral damage and destruction to critical infrastructure, including health care, power, water supply, banking and telecommunications.
The conflict has also resulted in an uptick in petty crime, looting and destruction of markets and basic service facilities. Those who remain in cities at the epicenter of the fighting have limited access to income and food, and the delivery of humanitarian assistance continues to be extremely challenging and unpredictable.
“Humanitarian partners report that looting, bureaucratic challenges, electricity and communication outages, fuel shortages and disruptions to the banking systems are undermining further efforts to deliver assistance,” according to FEWS NET’s August report.
FEWS NET projected one in four people in Sudan to be in urgent need of humanitarian assistance between July and September, a rate 50% higher than expected. In El Geneina, where targeted ethnic killings and atrocities are reportedly being committed, households are likely facing the most severe outcomes as fighting disrupts household mobility and the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
While food assistance needs are expected to decline between October and January with the start of the harvest, millions of people will continue to face hunger across the country. Concern is highest for IDPs from poor households in Sudan who depend on agricultural production or informal income for food.
“[These IDPs] have lost their primary livelihood, lack access to land to plant for the 2023 harvest, and are expected to face difficulty finding other means of earning income to purchase their basic food and nonfood needs,” FEWS NET decision support advisor Lark Walters said. “Market supplies, labor demand and other resources in host communities are insufficient to absorb such a large influx of additional people, particularly during the lean season period when food stocks reach an annual low and food prices typically peak.”