Sudan war: Millions struggle to find food

Mr. Balal, based in the UK, is a co-founder of Khartoum Aid Kitchen, which provides food to tens of thousands of people in Sudan’s capital.

Mohanad el-Balal is one of many Sudan civilians striving to prevent a devastating famine, and there is one man whose image he will never forget.

Sadiq, a middle-aged father, clutches the arms of his wheelchair to stay upright, his painfully thin legs stretched out in front of him.

“Sadiq is in a wheelchair, but he’s not disabled,” says Mr. Balal. “He’s so malnourished that he has lost the ability to walk.”

When volunteers found Sadiq, he “hadn’t had a proper meal for over a month,” Mr. Balal said, because he was giving any food he could find to his children.

Sadly, many people in Sudan share Sadiq’s plight.

The country is being ravaged by a war between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which began in April last year.

Over nine million people have fled their homes, and everyone in the country has been affected in some way.

And things are about to get worse.

“I expect that by September, about 70% of the population will be extremely hungry,” said Timmo Gaasbeek, a food security expert who has worked in Sudan.

“That could lead to two-and-a-half million deaths, or more. It could be as many as four million. There is just not enough food.”

He added that while food distribution by aid kitchens is helpful, it is not enough.

“The war has paralyzed the country’s economy, so people have no money,” said Amgad al-Farid, a veteran human rights activist who runs the Fikra for Studies and Development think-tank.

“Also, the RSF has taken Gezira state, which has the largest agricultural scheme in Sudan and produced many of our daily needs. Due to huge inflation, food imports have declined,” Dr. Farid explained.

In short, there is not enough food, and what food there is has become punishingly expensive.

Throughout the war, the programme has been receiving regular updates from Ahmed, a resident of Omdurman, one of the three cities that make up the capital.

In one part of Omdurman, controlled by the RSF, prices have increased by 400%, said Ahmed, who we are only calling by his first name.

“My wife got back from that area, and she told me most people eat only once a day, and sometimes not even that. It wasn’t like this a few months ago when looted food from factories was sold cheaply. Now, in RSF-controlled areas, food has become so expensive and rare. Hundreds of people queue up near where I am to get lentils for breakfast. Some of them add water to the lentils so they can eat it at night-time too,” Ahmed said.

He has had to explain to his young children why they cannot have the biscuits they used to love, and although things are tough for his family, it is much worse for many others.

Ahmed said humanitarian aid rarely gets through, and people are only surviving because of the food kitchens. But some of those are running out of money and even food to buy.

Mr. Balal from Khartoum Aid Kitchen knows of people who have starved to death.

People are struggling and dying, not only in Khartoum but also in Darfur, Kordofan, Gezira, and elsewhere.

Ayman Musa from the NGO the South Kordofan and Blue Nile Coordination Unit spoke of people in the Nuba mountains in the south having to boil leaves to survive.

Aid workers, like Justin Brady, head of the UN’s humanitarian body (Ocha) in Sudan, despair at the lack of international attention on the war in Sudan and point out that the international community has not provided the necessary funds to help those in need.

More than $2bn (£1.6bn) was promised at a pledging conference in Paris in April, but Mr. Brady said, “that is proving a little bit illusory.”

“We’re noting that only under a billion of that is for humanitarian action in Sudan, and some of those funds had already been dispersed, and some of those pledges have yet to materialize.”

Many Sudanese believe the world is turning its back on the country’s suffering.

“Both sides use starvation as a weapon of war,” said Alex de Waal from the World Peace Foundation. He has been studying famines and conflict in Sudan since the early 1980s.

The RSF, Mr. De Waal said, is “essentially a looting machine. They rampage through the countryside and towns, stealing everything there is, and that’s how they sustain themselves.”

Meanwhile, the Sudanese Armed Forces “are trying to starve the areas under RSF control” to increase pressure on their rival.

The two sides, Mr. De Waal added, “show no signs of any willingness to relinquish what is a cheap and very effective weapon.”

Both sides deny the accusation.

But across the country, people are hungry, worrying about where their next meal will come from – and in some cases, dying of hunger.

What many agree on is that without an end to the fighting and a colossal effort to reach desperate people, things will soon get much, much worse.

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