We Cannot Miss this Planting Season: Women, Conflict and Consequences for Food in Sudan
This article is written by David Mutua, the Regional Communications Advisor for CARE in East, Central, and Southern Africa.
With over 600 people dead, 5,100 injured, approximately 730,000 displaced, and few health centers operational, the dire situation in Sudan is getting worse, with growing health and hunger concerns.
The conflict threatens the planting season, set to begin at the end of May. If the season is missed, the number of people going hungry — at 11 million or 25 percent of the population prior to the current crisis — will increase. Before the conflict, one out of four people in Sudan was going to bed hungry. This additional (and imminent) threat to Sudan’s food system will impact women the most, a reality underscored by a recent analysis by CARE Sudan that found gender imbalances in the country’s existing hunger crises.
David Macdonald, CARE Sudan Country Director, said, “With the ongoing crisis, women are eating less. Before the current crisis, 42 percent of households headed by women had less food compared to 31 percent of male-headed households. Women are key in the food production chain and with current fighting, they can’t access the farms and agricultural inputs to produce food, leaving families and communities unable to get food. The conflict needs to end for Sudanese farmers to confidently return to their fields to support not only their families but also the wider community.”
Sudan’s farmers faced many challenges even before the onset of the conflict, from limited access to farm inputs and dilapidated transport and market infrastructure to extreme climate change impacts such as droughts and floods. These factors have contributed to low agricultural productivity and hindered efforts to achieve food self-sufficiency in Sudan. The lack of food has a direct impact on pregnant and lactating mothers as they are undernourished, contributing to an increase in malnutrition rates among children.
Sudan has the highest rate of child malnutrition globally. More than three million children under five are malnourished and more than 610,000 children suffer from severe acute malnutrition. These numbers have been on the rise, specifically in areas with increased cases of violence. This poses a great risk to the country’s next generation, especially as those severely malnourished may be unable to access health centers. In Khartoum, 61 percent of the health centers have been closed, and currently, only 16 percent are operating normally. This has put a major strain on those with sick family members.
Nadia*, a Khartoum resident, lives with her mother who has asthma and diabetes. The ongoing conflict has had devastating effects on Nadia’s family as they need to seek constant healthcare for her mother. “When the fighting broke out, we had to flee from where we used to live and settled close to a health center as there are only a few operational health facilities. They are not only understaffed and under-stocked but also face huge power outages, thus causing stored medicines to get spoiled. As a woman, it is scary to go out as I fear being caught in the crossfire, harassed, assaulted, or even raped,” Nadia said.
With a protracted conflict, CARE is also concerned that the small gains made in the protection of women and girls, especially against gender-based violence, will be lost. Before the conflict, it was estimated that 60 percent of the people in most need of humanitarian assistance were women and girls. This number will increase if the fighting does not stop.
CARE Sudan continues to work in four of the six regions with existing programs. As of May 12, 80 percent of CARE’s operations were ongoing. CARE Sudan continues to run therapeutic feeding programs for children and support pregnant and lactating mothers in 47 health centers in East Darfur, Kassala, Gedaref and South Darfur. In some of the same regions, CARE supports over 5,000 women with seed, farm inputs, fertilizer and animal husbandry.
Yet so much more needs to be done. “As the conflict approaches the one-month mark, we continue to call for unhindered access for humanitarian workers. Humanitarian organizations are unable to operate effectively as the tools of war continue to rage on. Families are unable to feed themselves as they cannot reach their farms and land or even get enough food from the stores. Communities are being forced to flee due to the conflict. Sudan needs lasting peace and cannot afford to miss this planting season,” David Macdonald said.
*Name changed to protect identity.