The crisis in Sudan, explained: Five things you need to know

April 26, 2023

Conflict has been part of Sudan’s recent history, but a new outbreak of violence escalates an already-dire humanitarian situation.

The dramatic evacuation of international residents from Sudan has been a top media headline in recent days, as military conflict spreads across the country. Violence in and around the capital of Khartoum has forced Concern, along with other NGOs, to suspend activities and evacuate non-national staff. 

“This conflict couldn’t have come at a worse time for the people of Sudan, who were already suffering terribly,” explains Dominic MacSorley, Humanitarian Ambassador for Concern US. “The country is just facing into the ‘lean’ season — that time when the remainder of last year’s harvest is gone and this year’s crops have not yet matured. The fact that most humanitarian supports have been suspended and conflict is restricting movement leaves many people in a truly horrific situation.”

Read on for five things to know about the real impact of the current crisis in Sudan, beyond the dramatic headlines. 

Learn more about how you can help the people of Sudan

1. Violence in Sudan has been a fact of life for years

Many Americans last followed Sudan in the headlines back in 2019, when months of civilian protest led to a transitional government. Since then, however, slowed progress on this front has left room for uncertainty and violence. (Similar circumstances have fuelled the crisis in neighboring South Sudan for more than a decade.) According to UNOCHA, an estimated 300,000 people were displaced by conflict in 2022 — with nearly 33,000 displaced in November alone due to fighting in West Kordofan and Central Darfur. 

At the beginning of this year, Concern listed Sudan as one of the world’s “forgotten” humanitarian crises due to this fragile balance of security and instability. Unfortunately, it is once again front-page news due to the crisis escalating out of the spotlight. 

conflict in Khartoum

The Sudanese capital of Khartoum at night as the city faces renewed conflict and violence.

2. One out of every three Sudanese requires humanitarian aid

The protracted nature of the situation in Sudan has led to dramatic increases in humanitarian aid. As of December 2022, 15.8 million Sudanese required humanitarian assistance, approximately one out of every three people in the country. This represents a 10% increase in humanitarian need compared to December 2021. 

Those numbers are expected to rise dramatically after the last two weeks. As of earlier this week, over 22,000 civilians have fled the country—many to neighboring Chad, as well as nearly 3,000 to South Sudan. As Peter Van der Auweraert, the South Sudan representative for the UN’s International Organization for Migration, told the New York Times earlier this week: “The people that get out first are the people that have the means,” indicating that thousands more will likely be stuck in the country with increasing needs.

3. This new wave of violence will affect the global refugee crisis in more ways than one

Sudan is both one of the largest host countries for refugees (1.11 million as of January 2023), and one of the largest countries of origin for refugees (844,000 as of January 2023). In the first two weeks of fighting, more than 20,000 Sudanese have crossed the border into Chad, with the UNHCR estimating an additional 100,000 could follow in the coming days.

The knock-on effects go beyond Sudanese refugees. Many of the foreign refugees (especially from Ethiopia, Syria, and Eritrea) currently in Sudan are also in areas affected by fighting. With fewer resources than locals, they will face additional challenges in moving around or outside of the country (much in the same way that refugees living in Ukraine dealt with additional challenges in moving to safety). These large displacements will also create additional pressure on host communities in countries like Chad and South Sudan, where resources are already tight. Psychological support will also be a key necessity for those who have been forced to flee.

“Day and night the fighting went on — to save their lives people moved and left everything behind,” says Concern Sudan country director, AKM Musha, who like many of Concern’s in-country staff was advised to leave Khartoum for his own safety. “The journey to escape was very difficult…a very frightening and horrible experience.” 

sudan convoy

A humanitarian convoy brings supplies into Sudan.

4. For those remaining in Sudan, there is a catastrophic combination of challenges beyond violence

As ranked in the 2022 Global Hunger Index, Sudan is the 15th hungriest country in the world. Food insecurity and malnutrition have run high in the country for decades due to the combined impacts of conflict, drought, locusts, and disease. The conflict in Ukraine and COVID-19-related impacts have contributed to inflation rates in excess of 400%. “Hospitals are not working, people cannot buy food, water is in short supply — everything has been eroded,” says Musha. 

Carol Morgan, Concern’s Director of International Programs, adds that healthcare will be a key issue for the people of Sudan. “There are only enough health personnel to cover about 17% of the population,” she explains. With the added pressures of conflict, this could seriously affect ongoing health concerns in the country, such as diarrhea — an issue responsible for one out of every ten child mortalities. 

Participants in a Concern-supported livelihoods program in Sudan.

Participants in a Concern-supported livelihoods program in Sudan. Vital programs such as these have been placed on hold due to the crisis. (Photo: Concern Worldwide)

5. Humanitarian assistance is not guaranteed

While humanitarian organizations both international and local are designed to help in times of crisis, the safety of staff is the number-one priority. The focus of violence in Khartoum has led to Concern evacuating its 10 non-Sudanese staff members from the country. Over 150 local staff members are either internally displaced or sheltering at home with challenges like rolling blackouts the rule versus the exception. 

This means that not everyone who requires humanitarian assistance at this time will be able to get the help they need. Concern had been working with the Ministry of Health in 73 health facilities and last year treated over 200,000 children for malnutrition. In total, the Sudan team had planned to reach over 500,000 people through a variety of humanitarian programs in 2023, vital work which has now been put on hold.

Concern has called for an immediate end to hostilities in Sudan, as well as for protections to be put in place to allow aid workers to provide essential community support. “We need the fighting to stop and humanitarian access to be restored or else Sudan is facing a really disastrous situation,” says Musha. 

The crisis in Sudan: Concern’s response

While hostilities have forced Concern to suspend work for the time being, we are responding to the ever-evolving situation and the humanitarian need that has already begun to arise from it. On the Sudanese-Chadian border, we are planning to mobilize teams in both countries (Concern has worked in Sudan for 37 years and in Chad for 16) to assist the thousands of people crossing the border.

“The majority of those fleeing are women and children,” said Concern Worldwide CEO David Regan.  “They are arriving with just the clothes on their backs and whatever they can carry. They urgently need food, water, shelter and sanitation.  Our teams on both sides of the border are drawing up plans to respond.”

With operations in West Darfur, West Kordofan, and South Kordofan, Concern is currently exploring all options to support programs that have been suspended because of the conflict, including  health, nutrition, water and sanitation, livelihoods, and food security.