Millions more Sudanese are set to go hungry this year as economic turmoil and erratic rains drive up prices and reduce harvests, with a halt to foreign assistance and the war in Ukraine putting food supplies at further risk, while nationwide protests against a military coup enter their sixth month.
The rising levels of hunger forecast by UN agencies threaten to further destabilize a country that faces growing conflict and poverty following the military takeover last year.
On Thursday, a protester was killed, medics said, as thousands marched toward the presidential palace in central Khartoum.
The 23-year-old was shot in the chest, the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors said, bringing the total of those killed in protest crackdowns since the Oct. 25 military coup to 93.
Sudan has been mired in economic crisis since before the overthrow of former Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir in an uprising in 2019. A transitional government attracted billions of dollars in international support, but that was suspended after the coup, placing Sudan on the brink of economic collapse.
Currency devaluations and subsidy reforms have driven up prices, and inflation is running at more than 250 percent. In the capital Khartoum, the cost of ever-shrinking small loaves of bread has risen from 2 Sudanese pounds (US$0.0045 at the current exchange rate) two years ago to about 50 pounds today.
Eighty-seven percent of Sudan’s imported wheat comes from Russia and Ukraine, UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) data show, making it one of the Arab world’s most exposed countries to the war in Ukraine.
“If this measly piece of bread is 50 pounds, what kind of life can we have?” said Haj Ahmed, an elderly man at a vegetable stall in Alhalfaya, on the capital’s outskirts.
The World Bank estimates that last year 56 percent of Sudan’s population of about 44 million were surviving on less than US$3.20, or about 2,000 pounds per day, one of its global poverty lines, up from 43 percent in 2009.
Last week, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) estimated that the number of people experiencing levels of hunger that would force them to sell essential assets, or who would have nothing more to sell, would double by September to 18 million.
“This jump didn’t happen yesterday or a couple months ago, it’s been building,” said Marianne Ward, WFP deputy country director.
“It’s not exclusively driven by conflict anymore; it’s also about structural issues such as inflation [and] availability of foreign currency,” she said.
Yields of sorghum, millet and wheat are 30 percent lower than they have been on average over the past five years, and Sudan could face its first deficit of the staple grain since droughts in the 1980s, UN agencies said.
Prices have doubled in the past four months, one trader said.
Billions of dollars of World Bank and IMF financing, some earmarked for budget support and agricultural development, were frozen and could be lost because of the coup.
Direct humanitarian aid has continued, but the US Agency for International Development and the WFP paused programs that had been aimed at supporting a transitional civilian government by covering about one-quarter of last year’s wheat consumption.
The WFP says its food stocks in Sudan would run out in May without new funding.
“The burden of all this political mayhem falls on the citizen,” said Ghareeballah Dafallah, an agricultural engineer in Alhalfaya who struggles to afford food and electricity.
“People used to be ashamed to say they were hungry, but now it’s clear,” he added.
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