The Sudanese capital, Khartoum, has been experiencing exceptionally difficult circumstances since mid-April, after the sudden armed conflict between the army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) changed the usual daily routine in the country to a mass of fire whose flames affected more than 45 million Sudanese citizens. The grinding crises struck a number of vital sectors, including health, education and fuel, until it came to the complete disappearance of food, water and medicine in a country where more than 15 million people suffered from food insecurity before the outbreak of brutal military confrontations, even though it is known as the “Arab food basket”.
With the intensification of the armed conflict in Khartoum and the increasing frequency and severity of the food crisis, Al-Bawaba News conducted a video interview with Dr. Abeer Etefa, the regional spokeswoman for the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), to find out the latest developments regarding the WFP’s plan of action after the resumption of its activity after 15 days of suspension following the killing of three employees and the injury of two others at the beginning of the conflict in Sudan.
Dr. Etefa said that the Sudanese people are in urgent and necessary need for a humanitarian pause following large-scale displacement from Sudan to seven neighboring countries, in addition to the increasing internal displacement movement from Khartoum to other states.
Etefa added in her interview with Al-Bawaba that there is a major halt in the supply of foodstuffs in Sudan in light of the urgent need for aid to reach millions in need, stressing the importance of implementing a ceasefire between the conflicting parties so that the WFP can reach out to those affected in these hotspots.
She stressed that the WFP is moving quickly to restore its life-saving operations to meet the urgent needs of refugees, departing communities and internally displaced persons, noting that Sudan is plunged into a major crisis, with millions suffering from hunger and food insecurity.
Regarding the World Food Program counting the numbers of people in need in Sudan, Etefa confirmed that it is difficult these days due to the poor security situation, which robbed the UN of its ability to conduct a comprehensive survey to determine the numbers, quantity and quality of needs of those affected by the conflict in Sudan.
Etefa explained that before the outbreak of the armed conflict that Sudan is currently witnessing, there were 15 million people suffering from acute food insecurity in the country, in addition to the fact that Sudan was hosting more than a million refugees. However, with the continuation of the conflict and the intensification of displacement, she pointed out that the UN organization believes that the numbers of “suffering and refugees” have increased significantly, and it is difficult to predict the number of people in dire need of food and the number of people the WFP can reach. However, she expects these numbers to be large, especially for internal refugees and host communities.
Regarding the WFP’s decision to return to its work in Sudan, Etefa said that in light of the difficult and deteriorating humanitarian situation in Sudan, the Executive Director of the World Food Program announced on May 1 the lifting of the suspension of the WFP’s work in the country, stressing that WFP teams are moving quickly to launch life-saving operations and meet the urgent needs of refugees. However, the full picture of the WFP’s return is not yet clear, she said, noting that there will be a rapid distribution of food in eastern Sudan, according to the humanitarian and security conditions that allow the WFP to move safely in many areas to distribute food.
Etefa recounted to Al-Bawaba News the scenes and reasons that prompted the WFP to suspend its activities in Sudan, saying that on the first day of the armed conflict that swept Sudan on April 15, WFP employees were subjected to heavy fire, and the program lost three of its employees, while two others were wounded with serious injuries. There was also a joint mission with a bank in Sudan regarding a survey and assessment of humanitarian needs in an area of the country to provide cash assistance; however, the partners came under fire, and four employees were killed.
Among the reasons for the suspension of the WFP’s activities in Sudan is that a WFP plane that was at Khartoum airport was seriously damaged, which is not within the framework of reform and facilitating the WFP’s work in the country, Etefa explained, noting that the WFP provides humanitarian air service in Sudan, and these planes serve more than 30,000 passengers annually, while more than 100 UN partner organizations use them for transport to 36 destinations in Sudan, and therefore the destruction of the plane had a negative impact on the WFP’s ability to operate in many areas of Sudan.
Etefa elaborated on the reasons for the WFP’s suspension of its activities in Sudan, saying that ten WFP cars were stolen, in addition to the theft and looting of more than 5,000 tons of foodstuffs from the WFP’s stores in Nyala, South Darfur, as well as the robbery of ten planes and six other trucks, all in different areas of the Darfur region. This was in addition to the widespread looting of all the WFP’s headquarters in many regions of Sudan and the guesthouses in which the WFP staff stay.
Regarding Al-Bawaba’s review of the latest statistics on the numbers of people affected by the armed conflict in Sudan and the amount of support required to provide the UN aid program, Etefa confirmed that before the armed conflict in Sudan, the WFP provided food aid to about 7.5 million people on a monthly basis, whether by supporting small farmers, school feeding projects, treatment projects, or feeding children, pregnant women, and nursing mothers, and this was one of the WFP’s largest operations in Sudan.
However, after more than 15 days passed since the beginning of the conflict, it is not yet possible to announce the extent of those affected or the support required in Sudan, because the process of surveying and identifying is still needed. However, Etefa believes that the amount of material aid and funds needed by the WFP to be ready to help the Sudanese people in these difficult circumstances has doubled.
She explained that the WFP is in need for the process of drawing up a plan in the coming days and months, between determining the numbers of those in need of aid and a picture of the required assistance, including food rations, ready meals and cash financial aid, stressing that the process of determining the quantity, quality and beneficiaries of the aid until now is still under the arrangement, organization and planning of the World Food Program.
We are worried about the conflict in Sudan developing into border areas, which could end in a regional crisis
Regarding the major problems facing those fleeing the armed conflict in Sudan and the increasing number of displaced people to seven border countries neighboring Sudan, Etefa stressed that the problem facing many of the neighboring countries, whether Chad, South Sudan or others, is the suffering of these countries from political, economic and social fragility, in addition to poor infrastructure and many other problems. She pointed out that South Sudan is one of the regions that the World Food Program announced that it has hotspots of famine for some time, and therefore the WFP has fear and anxiety over the fate of some of these countries, especially if the conflict in Sudan develops into the border areas with these countries, which could end with a regional crisis in Africa.
As far as the support for refugees and those fleeing from Khartoum to South Sudan and Chad, Etefa explained that until now the numbers of refugees are still flowing, and there are not accurate numbers. However, the WFP has offices in these countries and has the ability to provide support and launch a rapid emergency process to help those affected, she said, stressing that it is a matter of time, organization and determination of the size of these needs and the identification of beneficiaries and ways to benefit.
Regarding the amount of aid for those fleeing from the war in Sudan, Etefa explained that the enumeration of refugees falls under the responsibility of the High Commissioner for Refugees and the passing governments, and the numbers are now being counted. However, preliminary figures indicate that tens of thousands of Sudanese have fled to neighboring countries. Perhaps 50,000 or more Sudanese entered Egypt, and tens of thousands entered Chad. As for South Sudan, there are no preliminary statistics yet because of the difficulty of counting the continued displacement of thousands every day.
We provide humanitarian aid to 5 million people in Syria
In the midst of many experts warning that the fate of the food crisis in Sudan would be like Syria, which was hit by the earthquake in February, Al-Bawaba News asked Etefa about the humanitarian and nutritional situation in Syria nearly three months after the major earthquake that killed thousands. in Syria and increased the suffering of millions after a war that has been going on for more than 12 years.
Etefa responded by saying that the situation in Syria has become very difficult, worrying and critical, especially since it is suffering from “donor weakness” in 2023, as a significant decline in the ability of donor countries to continue funding humanitarian operations in the country was witnessed, which brought the WFP on the brink of a crisis of a significant reduction in the volume of aid in Syria.
She added that the World Food Program provides humanitarian aid to about 5 million people in Syria, whether in areas that were hit by the earthquake or in areas that are recovering from the effects of the conflict that has been going on for over a decade.
Regarding the situation of the food crisis in Syria, Etefa sounded the alarm, saying that Syria is now experiencing an acute food crisis, which has become “more complex and difficult” than the worst days of the conflict in the country, stressing that the years of armed conflict in Syria have pushed millions into food insecurity, as there are 12 million Syrians suffering from food insecurity, or nearly 60% of the population, in addition to the deteriorating economic conditions in the country, the increase in inflation and the consequent deterioration in general of the living and humanitarian conditions.
Yemen is among the countries suffering from food insecurity
Regarding the situation of food security in Yemen a decade after its crisis began, Etefa said that Yemen is among the countries that suffer from the most complex food insecurity, as it is one of the five hotspots in the world with unprecedented rates of hunger, along with Afghanistan and South Sudan.
She added that the WFP’s operations in Yemen are very complex, but despite this, the WFP provides aid to more than 13 million people on a monthly basis, and if there is a relative improvement in some areas in terms of food security, this is because of the real support provided by the World Food Program on an ongoing basis, but in particular, there are a number of regions in the country that are still suffering from armed conflict.
Etefa explained that the Yemeni state is one of the WFP’s largest operations, and the amount of aid provided by the program costs more than $1 billion annually, pointing out that the WFP is in charge of aid operations in partnership with non-governmental organizations and UN organizations, but the program closely monitors humanitarian work, and it supervises the distribution of aid in all governorates of Yemen, whether in the south, center or north of the country.
5 million people affected by climate change war
Regarding the humanitarian situation and food security in the Horn of Africa, Etefan said there was a series of major events that hit all parts of the world, in addition to the outbreak of armed conflicts in many regions, including East and West Africa.
Etefa added that the multiple global crises have cast a shadow over Africa, in addition to the climate change war that has killed small farmers in light of the many problems still facing the countries of the Horn of Africa, including drought and the unwillingness of these countries to deal with the impacts of climate change.
She likened the crises that struck the world in the past years to a “storm”, which has become a major dilemma facing the world, while the effects of recovery from the corona pandemic led to an economic slowdown and disruption in supply chains, especially in the field of food security.
Etefa explained that the difficult conditions that afflicted various countries of the world increased the deterioration of the situation in the Horn of Africa. She added that in the regions of West and East Africa, the World Food Program announced the first case of drought and famine in the world due to climate change in Madagascar, stressing that more than 5 million people are affected by climate change.