365 days of war: Children in Sudan face intergenerational catastrophe

One year since violence exploded in Sudan, and as the ensuing crisis continues to deepen, the lives, educations and futures of a generation of Sudanese children hang in the balance.

Ein Kind isst therapeutische Nahrung und schaut in die Kamera.
One-year-old Amna is regaining her strength thanks to the ready-to-use therapeutic food at the Al-Arab health facility. She is one of the 700,000 children in Sudan suffering from severe acute malnutrition due to the war and lack of access to healthcare facilities.

Beyond the direct impact of the violence on children, the ongoing war has fueled a lethal combination of displacement, disease outbreaks and hunger. Almost 4 million children under five are projected to suffer from acute malnutrition this year, including 730,000 projected to suffer from life-threatening severe acute malnutrition. Sudan now has one of the worst education crises in the world, with more than 90 per cent of the country's 19 million school-age children having no access to formal education. The ongoing disruption to education will result in a generational crisis for Sudan.

“This brutal war and potential famine is creating an ominous environment for a catastrophic loss of children’s lives,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, Ted Chaiban.

“Almost half of the children suffering from severe acute malnutrition are in areas that are hard to access, where there is ongoing fighting, making their conditions all the more dire. This is all avoidable, and we can save lives if all parties to the conflict allow us to access communities in need and to fulfil our humanitarian mandate – without politicizing aid.”

Hunger and malnutrition make children much more vulnerable to disease and death. With vaccination coverage dropping significantly due to the fighting, hundreds of thousands of children lacking access to safe drinking water, and significant access issues due to the violence, ongoing disease outbreaks such as cholera, measles, malaria, and dengue threaten the lives of hundreds of thousands of children. Spikes in mortality, especially among internally displaced children, are a forewarning of a possible huge loss of life, as the country enters the annual lean season.

Ensuring predictable and sustainable access to vulnerable populations is critical to preventing catastrophic hunger and famine. Meanwhile, basic systems and social services in Sudan are on the brink of collapse, with frontline workers not being paid for a year, vital supplies depleted, and infrastructure, including hospitals and schools, still under attack. Children and families’ access to health, nutrition, water, and sanitation hangs by a thread, further compounding the crisis.

The ongoing hostilities have resulted in a five-fold increase in reports of grave violations of children’s rights from 2022 to 2023, especially the recruitment and use of children by armed forces and armed groups, killing, maiming, and sexual violence against children. 2023 saw the highest number of grave child rights violations verified in Sudan in more than a decade. True figures are likely to be far higher than those reported given the extreme difficulties to verify violations due to access issues.

Sudan has also become the world’s largest child displacement crisis, with over 4 million children forced from their homes since April 2023, including nearly 1 million children crossing into neighboring countries, particularly to Chad, Egypt, and South Sudan. Many refugees and returnees are arriving in areas that were already home to vulnerable and underserved communities, struggling with multiple emergencies and crises.

“The scale of needs is so staggering that it’s hard to put into perspective- but let us not forget these are not just numbers,” said Chaiban. “These numbers represent millions of children with names, stories, hopes and dreams. Yet without significant scale up of critical life-saving services, a reopening of schools, and most fundamentally an end to the war, these hopes and dreams will be lost for a generation and for the future of Sudan.” 

UNICEF is providing essential, life-saving services in child protection, gender-based violence, health, nutrition, WASH, education and cash support to the most vulnerable children and families. UNICEF is urgently asking for $240 million for the next 6 months to prevent famine in the 93 most vulnerable localities in Sudan, home to 3.5 million children under 5 years of age. 

“After 365 days of conflict, the children of Sudan remain at the sharp end of a horrific war. Without urgent concerted action and additional resources, the country risks a generational catastrophe that will have grave implications for the country, the region and beyond,” said Chaiban. “If immediate steps are not taken to halt the violence, facilitate humanitarian access, and provide life-saving aid to those in need, an even worse catastrophe is likely to impact children for many years to come.”