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People eating grass, UN warns Sudan's warring parties that Darfur risks starvation and death

New York — The United Nations food agency warned Sudan’s warring parties Friday there is a serious risk of widespread starvation and death in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan if they don’t allow humanitarian aid into the vast western region.

Since fighting erupted last April between rival militaries, Sudan has witnessed shocking levels of violence, plunging the country into a devastating humanitarian and protection crisis, according to the UN.

Close to 25 million people – more than half the population – are estimated to need assistance, with 17.7 million people facing “acute” levels of food insecurity.

The crisis, described as being of “epic proportions” by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, is exacerbated by limited access to vulnerable communities due to ongoing fighting and authorities’ restrictions, particularly in Darfur, while the fighting rages on between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

World Food Program’s regional spokesperson, Leni Kinzli said at least 1.7 million people in Darfur were experiencing emergency levels of hunger in December, and the number “is expected to be much higher today.”

“Our calls for humanitarian access to conflict hotspots in Sudan have never been more critical,” she told a virtual U.N. press conference from Nairobi.

Sudan plunged into chaos in mid-April 2023, when long-simmering tensions between its military led by Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, and the paramilitary RSF commanded by Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, broke out into street battles in the capital, Khartoum. Fighting has spread to other parts of the country, especially urban areas and the Darfur region.

The paramilitary forces, have gained control of most of Darfur and are besieging El Fasher, the only capital in Darfur they don’t hold, where some 500,000 civilians had taken refuge.

Kinzli said WFP’s partners on the ground report that the situation in El Fasher is “extremely dire” and it’s difficult for civilians wanting to flee the reported RSF bombings and shelling to leave.

She said the violence in El Fasher and surrounding North Darfur is exacerbating the critical humanitarian needs in the entire Darfur region, where crop production for staple cereals like wheat, sorghum and millet is 78% less than the five-year average.

On top of the impact of escalating violence, Kinzli said, “WFP is concerned that hunger will increase dramatically as the lean season between harvests sets in and people run out of food.” She said a farmer in El Fasher recently told her that her family had already run out of food stocks and is living day-to-day, an indication that the “lean season,” which usually starts in May, started earlier.

Kinzli said she received photos earlier Friday from colleagues on the ground of severely malnourished children in a camp for displaced people in Central Darfur, as well as older people “who have nothing left but skin and bones.”

“Recent reports from our partners indicate that 20 children have died in recent weeks of malnutrition in that IDP camp,” she said.

“People are resorting to consuming grass and peanut shells,” Kinzli said. “And if assistance doesn’t reach them soon, we risk witnessing widespread starvation and death in Darfur and across other conflict-affected areas in Sudan.”

Kinzli called for “a concerted diplomatic effort by the international community to push the warring parties to provide access and safety guarantees” for humanitarian staff and convoys.

“One year of this devastating conflict in Sudan has created an unprecedented hunger catastrophe and threatens to ignite the world's largest hunger crisis,” she warned. “With almost 28 million people facing food insecurity across Sudan, South Sudan and Chad, the conflict is spilling over and exacerbating the challenges that we've already been facing over the last year.”

In March, Sudanese authorities revoked WFP’s permission to deliver aid from neighboring Chad to West Darfur and Central Darfur from the town of Adre, saying that crossing had been used to transfer weapons to the RSF. Kinzli said restrictions from Sudanese authorities in Port Sudan are also preventing WFP from transporting aid via Adre.

Sudanese authorities approved the delivery of aid from the Chadian town of Tina to North Darfur, but Kinzli said WFP can no longer use that route for security reasons because it goes directly into besieged El Fasher.

On Thursday, gunmen in South Darfur killed two drivers for the International Committee of the Red Cross and injured three ICRC staff members. On Friday, U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffith called the killing of aid works “unconscionable.”

Kinzli said the fighting “and endless bureaucratic hurdles” have prevented WFP from delivering aid to over 700,000 people in Darfur ahead of the rainy season when many roads become impassable.

“WFP currently has 8,000 tons of food supplies ready to move in Chad, ready to transport, but is unable to do so because of these constraints,” she said.

“WFP urgently requires unrestricted access and security guarantees to deliver assistance,” she said. “And we must be able to use the Adre border crossing, and move assistance across front lines from Port Sudan in the east to Darfur so we can reach people in this desperate region.”

Copyright Associated Press

 

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