UN warns 18 million Sudanese could face acute hunger by September

Rapid currency depreciation, rising cost of living and political deadlock push Sudan to brink of meltdown

A bakery in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, a country where up to 18 million people could be suffering from acute hunger within months. AFP

A UN warning that the number of people in Sudan who will face acute hunger will more than double to 18 million by September this year is the latest evidence the troubled Afro-Arab nation may be on the brink of an economic meltdown.

Five months after a military coup derailed the country’s democratic transition and plunged it into political deadlock, the price of many basic items has soared beyond the reach of many Sudanese and pushed millions into poverty.

Significantly, the turmoil sparked by the coup has wiped out the encouraging but small economic gains made by the civilian-led government removed by the military. The coup also led to the suspension of hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of foreign aid and a programme to forgive most of Sudan’s large foreign debt.

On Wednesday, two UN food agencies – the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organisation – delivered a grim warning that highlighted the seriousness of the challenges now facing a country that has seen little stability and virtually no economic prosperity since independence in 1956.

“The combined effects of conflict, economic crisis and poor harvests are significantly affecting people’s access to food and will likely double the number of people facing acute hunger in Sudan to more than 18 million by September,” the WFP and the FAO said in a joint report.

With food becoming more and more unavailable and unaffordable, more people in Sudan are being pushed deeper into poverty and hunger, the report said.

It said a recent surge in violence in the restive Darfur and Kordofan regions had eroded livelihoods, damaged farms and triggered widespread unemployment.

“The depreciation of the Sudanese pound, in addition to rising food and transportation costs, is making it harder for families to put food on the table.”

Anti-military protesters in Khartoum, Sudan. Reuters

The October 25 coup, led by army chief Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan, has sparked almost daily street protests in the capital Khartoum and other major cities. The protesters are calling for the restoration of the democratic transition and for the military to quit politics altogether.

The rallies have been dealt with violently by security forces, with about 90 protesters killed, including 11 children, and 3,000 injured.

The military has repeatedly been admonished by the West for allowing security forces to use excessive force against unarmed protesters.

The US this week imposed sanctions on a police paramilitary force – the Central Reserves – for its role in the killing of protesters, while Congress has called for similar measures aimed at the army generals behind the coup.

Life in Khartoum for many this week ground to a halt because of a general strike called by pro-democracy groups, whose supporters barricaded streets across much of the sprawling, Nile-side city.

Life returned to normal on Thursday, residents said, with thousands of people thronging government offices to pursue official documentation.

However, the economic crisis seems to be deepening every day.

Fires are lit on the streets of Khartoum. AFP

The dollar was trading on the streets of the capital on Thursday at 760 pounds, compared to 450-470 on the eve of the coup. Petrol at the pump was sold for 680 pounds a litre, up from 310 in October. The price of a kilogram of sugar is 700 pounds, more than twice its price five months ago.

In an interview with the Saudi Arabian-owned daily newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, Gen Al Burhan repeated an earlier statement that the military was ready to sit down with civilian politicians only when they reach a consensus on how to move forward with the transition.

"When all the civilian forces sit together and come to a consensus between them, we are ready to sit and come to an understanding with them or to present them with whatever they need from the military side," he said.

Gen Al Burhan has insisted that his coup was a necessary corrective measure to end political infighting. Pro-democracy activists, however, accuse the military of seeking to consolidate their power by advancing politicians beholden to them.

They reject talks with the military and demand that Gen Al Burhan and his associates be held accountable for toppling a legitimate government and killing unarmed protesters.

Updated: March 24, 2022, 5:43 PM