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People hold pots as volunteers distribute food in Omdurman, Sudan, on Sept. 3, 2023.EL TAYEB SIDDIG/Reuters

Sudan is rapidly becoming the world’s worst hunger crisis in decades, with 80 per cent of its population likely to be suffering emergency levels of acute hunger under a national famine by July, a new report says.

A million people could die from malnutrition and food shortages this year, the report warns, as a result of the prolonged war between military factions that has devastated Sudan and killed many thousands since last April.

The United Nations has already declared Sudan to be the biggest displacement crisis in the world, with nearly eight million forced to flee their homes since the war erupted. The new report, published this month by the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, focuses on the emerging hunger disaster and the growing risk of mass starvation.

“The risk of famine is extremely high and demands immediate concerted action,” it says.

Under the most likely scenario, the report says, three-quarters of Sudan’s 45 million people will be trying to survive on less than half of their daily energy requirements by July, and more than 40 per cent of the population could be facing catastrophic levels of hunger – the highest level under international classifications.

The report blames the deliberate tactics of the two warring sides: the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.

“Food and hunger have undeniably become weapons in this war,” it says. “By destroying and looting food infrastructure and preventing people from accessing food, the SAF and RSF may be perpetrating starvation crimes.”

Sudan is currently in its harvest season, normally the time when food is most abundant, but hunger levels now are the highest ever recorded during the harvest, the report says. The lean season, from July to September, will be catastrophic, it predicts.

In recent weeks, the fighting between the RSF and SAF has spread into Sudan’s breadbasket regions, to the south of the capital, Khartoum, disrupting crucial trade routes and farming activities.

Starvation cases have already begun. Deaths from hunger have been recorded recently in neighbourhoods around Khartoum and in the Darfur region in the west.

At the Zamzam camp for displaced people in North Darfur, a child is dying every two hours, and the mortality rate is more than double the emergency threshold, according to a report this month by humanitarian agency Médecins Sans Frontières.

In its latest assessment at the camp, MSF found that almost a quarter of the children screened were acutely malnourished. The camp, with more than 300,000 people sheltering in it, lacks any clean water supply, which forces people to drink from swamps or streams. This can cause diarrhea, which can be fatal for malnourished children.

“What we are seeing in Zamzam camp is an absolutely catastrophic situation,” said Claire Nicolet, head of MSF’s emergency response in Sudan, in a statement.

“Those with severe malnutrition who have not yet died are at high risk of dying within three to six weeks if they do not get treatment. Their condition is treatable if they can get to a health facility. But many cannot.”

United Nations agencies are issuing similar warnings. James Elder, a spokesperson for the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, said on Friday that more than 700,000 children in Sudan “are likely to suffer the deadliest form of malnutrition this year.”

Tens of thousands of these children are likely to die, unless the UN gets additional support and better access to the country, he said.

Access to health care is “severely limited,” with 70 per cent to 80 per cent of health facilities in Sudan’s conflict-affected regions now non-functional or inaccessible, the World Health Organization said last week. “People are dying from lack of access to basic and essential health care and medicines.”

The crisis was compounded by a six-day shutdown of internet and mobile phone services across the country, reportedly imposed by the RSF. The shutdown was partially lifted on Monday.

“The telecom blackout in Sudan is preventing people from accessing essential services and transferring funds, and hindering the humanitarian response,” said Martin Griffiths, UN emergencies chief, in a social-media post on Monday.

The UN has appealed for US$4.1-billion in funding for Sudan’s humanitarian needs this year. But last year it was able to raise only 43 per cent of the US$2.5-billion that it sought for the country.

Shortages of money are compounded by military blockades and security threats, which prevent the UN agencies from reaching 90 per cent of those who face emergency levels of hunger in Sudan. The World Food Program reported that 70 of its trucks were stuck in the city of Port Sudan for more than two weeks in January while they waited for clearances.

The chief of Sudan’s army, General Abdel Fattah Burhan, reportedly said on Sunday that his troops will prevent any humanitarian aid from reaching areas controlled by the RSF.

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