WFP Warns of Major Setback to Aid Efforts as Fighting Spreads in Sudan

Photo: WFP/Ala Kheir/2023
Published December 20, 2023

PORT SUDAN – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has been forced to temporarily suspend food assistance in some parts of Gezira State, as fighting spreads south and east of Sudan’s capital Khartoum. This is a major setback to humanitarian efforts in the country’s breadbasket, where the U.N. World Food Programme had been regularly providing aid to over 800,000 people, including many who escaped the fighting in Khartoum.

“We already lost our homes in Khartoum and watched as our lives were destroyed before our eyes. Now we are forced to flee yet again, leaving behind what little we had left. Hundreds of thousands are fleeing on foot, with nowhere to go. We are so worried about those who already lived through the horrors in Khartoum, and now find themselves trapped in Wad Madani with no way out,” said Karim Abdelmoneim, the U.N. World Food Programme’s emergency coordinator for Gezira State.

“A place of refuge has now become a battleground in a war that has already taken a horrific toll on civilians. This has forced the U.N. World Food Programme to put on hold food deliveries in some locations in Gezira State at a time when people need our help the most,” said Eddie Rowe, U.N. World Food Programme representative and country director in Sudan.

Around 300,000 people have fled Gezira State in a matter of days since clashes erupted on Friday. Ongoing fighting makes it extremely challenging for humanitarian agencies to safely deliver assistance, especially with more and more people on the move, fleeing for their lives.

“We are committed to supporting the people of Sudan in their hour of greatest need, but the safety of our staff and partners must be guaranteed. Our teams are working around the clock to provide food aid in locations where it is still possible and resume planned assistance in other areas when it is safe to do so,” Rowe said.

“The safety of humanitarian staff, supplies and premises is paramount and must be ensured no matter the circumstances. We urge all parties to adhere to their obligations under International Humanitarian Law for the sake of innocent civilians who so desperately need support,” Rowe added.

If the conflict spills over into Sudan’s grain-producing region, it would have dramatic consequences on agricultural production and food availability in the coming months – at a time when hunger is already at record levels according to recent IPC food security assessments. The agency’s plans to boost wheat production in Gezira, with support from the African Development Bank, could also be in jeopardy.

Nearly 18 million people in Sudan are acutely food insecure during the ongoing harvest season, a time when food is typically more available. Yet initial assessments show that crop yields have taken a hit due to the conflict, as rising prices of fertilizers, seeds and fuel hinder farming during the planting season.

“Sudan’s breadbasket must remain for what it was intended – farming, not fighting. Otherwise, we may see an even more catastrophic hunger crisis as the lean season gets underway in May 2024,” Rowe warned.

Background/Note to the Editor

Half of all wheat produced in Sudan comes from Gezira, where an average of over 771,000,000 pounds of wheat is harvested annually – enough to fed around 6 million people. The state is also home to the 2 million-acre Gezira Agricultural Scheme, one of the largest gravity-fed irrigation schemes in the world, and a source of income and livelihood for millions locally. The state’s high agricultural capacity and key location along critical supply routes that lead to Sudan’s capital Khartoum, make it vital to Sudan’s food system.

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The United Nations World Food Programme is the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and the world’s leading humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.

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