Photo: WFP/Leni Kinzli

What’s Happening in Sudan? Explainer on the Current Conflict and Its Effects on Humanitarian Aid to Civilians

World Food Program USA
Published May 4, 2023

In the past few weeks, fighting between military groups in Sudan has resulted in multiple civilian injuries and casualties. You may have read or seen reports on the rush to evacuate United States citizens out of the country. Humanitarian organizations are working to deliver aid and ensure the safety of its staff in this rapidly evolving situation.

This sudden burst of conflict might be surprising, but it’s just the latest in a complex of history of war in Sudan. We’ll briefly explain what’s happening in Sudan, the history of how the conflict got here and how it’s affecting Sudanese civilians.

Related: 6 Current Conflicts in the World Today and Their Effects on Global Hunger 

What Is Going on in Sudan Right Now?

On April 15, 2023, violent conflict erupted between two rival groups in Sudan: the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). Fighting has happened primarily in urban centers, which is why civilian casualties have been so high: Over 600 civilians have died and more than 5,000 are injured. More than one million new refugees and internally displaced persons have been forced to flee their homes because of the recent fighting.The U.S. and other governments around the world have been – and are still in the process of – trying to evacuate their citizens. As humanitarian organizations try to deliver aid, many have suffered damage and losses.

Basic Facts About Sudan

Sudan has a population of 46 million people (about twice the population of New York state). It’s located in northeastern Africa and shares borders with Egypt, Libya, Chad, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea, along with a coast on the Red Sea.

65% of Sudan’s people live under the poverty line. Before this recent conflict erupted, 15 million people (30% of the population) already faced extreme hunger. In recent years, the impacts of the climate crisis have resulted in severe droughts and floods across the country which have made food even harder to find or afford.

The current violence has the potential to plunge millions more into poverty and hunger.

Learn More About Sudan >

woman and young girl standing in dirt road

The History and Background of Conflict in Sudan

Since its independence from Great Britain and Egypt in 1956, Sudan has experienced internal conflict. Most notably, in 1989, Omar al-Bashir seized power in a military coup and remained Sudan’s president for the next three decades.

During al-Bashir’s rule, conflict between northern and southern Sudan resulted in the south’s secession. By 2011, the world’s youngest country, South Sudan, was born. The secession sent shockwaves through Sudan’s economy as it lost vital resources and revenue.

As Sudan’s economy deteriorated, Sudanese civilians demonstrated in mass street protests. They demanded economic reforms and the removal of President al-Bashir. A military-civilian government was soon created, but that was also overthrown in 2021 when General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan took over.

Since then, the country has been run by a council of generals led by two military figures at the center of the conflict:

  • General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan who leads the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and is the country’s acting president.
  • His deputy, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo who leads the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary group.

An agreement was signed by the military council to transition Sudan back into civilian rule in 2023, but arguments between the two generals over the transition process led to rising tensions that erupted into conflict between their military groups on April 15.

How Is Violence Affecting Civilians?

Photo: ACTED

Sudan, May 3, 2023. Internally displaced people line up at a WFP  distribution center after fleeing the recent conflict.

The violence has forced 100,000 civilians to flee their homes. By the end of April, approximately 33,000 people had sought safety outside of Sudan and 75,000 people were internally displaced. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has reported widespread shortages of food, water, medicine and fuel in Sudan. People’s houses have also been looted and burned. Food and fuel prices have skyrocketed as cash and basic supplies are running out in the country.

Humanitarian agencies are concerned that women and girls may suffer greater harm, as gender-based violence commonly increases during conflict. Hospital closures across the country put 24,000 pregnant women who are about to give birth in the coming weeks at risk.

All this comes on top of an existing hunger crisis in Sudan in which 15.8 million people are facing severe hunger and nearly 4 million women and children are acutely malnourished.

What Is Being Done to Help People in Sudan?

Shortly after the conflict began, the U.S. and other countries helped to broker a 72-hour ceasefire to allow civilians to evacuate and for the two sides to initiate peace agreements. However, fighting has continued.

Humanitarian agencies are struggling to deliver aid to people in Sudan amidst the fighting. Multiple aid organizations have reported their warehouses being looted and – in a few instances – their staff killed in the conflict.

Photo: ACTED

Sudan, May 3, 2023. WFP is distributing emergency food assistance in eastern Sudan to support over 384,000 people, including those internally displaced, refugees, and host communities.

After a brief pause in its operations due to these security concerns, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has restarted its lifesaving operations in Sudan to meet the immediate needs of refugees, host communities and internally displaced people. While the security situation is still highly precarious, we are committed to supporting the people of Sudan. We have already reached over 300,000 people with food aid.

We have been present in Sudan since 1963. Through conflicts and natural disasters, we have delivered food assistance to the people of Sudan. In 2022, we provided food assistance to 9.2 million people.

man lifting bag of food onto truck

The recent fighting in Sudan is the latest example of conflict being the primary cause of hunger. With your help, we can go where others can’t to save lives in conflict zones and deliver food to those who need it most.


This story was last updated on May 17, 2023. As the situation in Sudan is quickly evolving, this story will be edited as updates become available.