In the Kalma camp for the displaced on the outskirts of Nyala, the capital of South Darfur state in Sudan, Ansaf Omar sat miserably trying to heal the wound of losing her infant child and her inability to save him amid an acute food crisis affecting millions across the country.
Omar, 34, told AFP, nearly a month after losing her one-and-a-half-year-old baby, “I suffer from severe malnutrition, and I was unable to breastfeed my son.”
“He was malnourished, and we took him to a treatment center and again to a hospital, and in the end he died,” she said sadly.
Like Omar, many mothers around Kalma camp in southwestern Sudan suffer from acute malnutrition, as they struggle daily to feed their weak and hungry children.
Sudan is one of the poorest countries in the world and a third of its population of about 45 million people is facing an escalating hunger crisis. According to the United Nations, nearly three million children in Sudan under the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition.
“More than 100,000 children in Sudan are at risk of dying from malnutrition if left untreated,” said Lenny Kinsley, WFP’s communications officer in Sudan.
According to the “Allite Aid” humanitarian aid organization, 63 children died in and around Kalma camp last year due to malnutrition.
The organization reports that a third of children under the age of five are “shorter than the average for their age” and that there is a prevalence of “stunting of more than 40%” in nearly half of Sudan’s regions.
About 65% of Sudanese live below the poverty line, according to a United Nations report issued in 2020.
During the rule of former President Omar al-Bashir, which lasted three decades, Sudan suffered from successive economic crises resulting from mismanagement on the one hand, and the country witnessed tribal conflicts and armed rebellion on the other hand, in addition to the international sanctions imposed on it.
These harsh conditions prompted the Sudanese to go out in mass protests against Al-Bashir’s rule until the army overthrew him in April 2019, and an agreement was reached on a joint transitional rule between the civilians and the military. An economic détente looms, with pledges of international aid and the lifting of some sanctions against the country.
However, in October 2021, hopes were dashed and the economic crisis worsened after a military coup carried out by the army commander, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, that overthrew civilians from power, which led to a decline in international aid to the country, while almost daily demonstrations took place in protest against the military rule.
Food insecurity is not new to the residents of Kalma camp, which is the largest for the displaced in Darfur, with about 120,000 displaced people since the outbreak of the conflict in Darfur in 2003.
With the exacerbation of economic hardship and the continuation of tribal violence from time to time, people confirm that the situation is getting worse.
Malnutrition treatment centers run by Elite Aid in Kalma camp have seen a “massive increase” in requests for treatment and food aid, according to Heidi Dredish, the group’s regional director.
These centers received “during the past year 863 children, an increase of 71% compared to 2021 … and the death rate increased by 231% in 2022 among children over six months old.”
Outside one of the camp’s feeding centers, 38-year-old Hawa Suleiman stood holding her sleeping infant, hoping to find food.
“We don’t have anything at home… sometimes we go to bed hungry,” she told AFP.
In recent years, Kinsley says, the World Food Program has halved food rations for displaced people in Kalma “due to funding constraints.”
She attributed the lack of funding to “the global economic deterioration and the increasing global humanitarian needs, which puts us in an impossible situation by choosing who receives support… It is heartbreaking.”
“Don’t leave in peace”
Recently, the United Nations said that there is a 35% shortage in the production of sorghum, a staple food in Sudan, in the 2021-2022 harvest season.
Nour al-Sham Ibrahim, 30, can no longer count on aid to feed her five children. “We are trying to earn some money working in the fields outside the camp, but it barely covers one day… Even bread is very expensive,” she says.
For others, like Omar, getting out of the camp in Darfur, turbulent as a result of tribal violence, is an adventure fraught with danger.
“We are not left in peace when we go out to work,” said Omar, who earns about 500 Sudanese pounds ($0.8) a day working in the fields.
“Women and girls are raped…and men are killed,” she added.
The Darfur region was the scene of a bitter civil war in 2003 between the rebels of African ethnic minorities and the Bashir government, which was the majority of its members of the Arabs.
Although the conflict, which has left 300,000 dead and displaced 2.5 million people, has largely abated, ethnic violence still erupts over access to water, land or livestock.
Last year, clashes in Sudan killed nearly 1,000 people, including in parts of Darfur, according to the United Nations.
“We are very tired. We struggle here and there to get food, but we need help,” Ibrahim says.