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Sudan's raging civil war could see 2 million starve to death. Aid agency says "the world is not watching"

Millions facing starvation in Sudan: UNHCR
Millions facing starvation in Sudan nearly a year after civil war broke out, U.N. says 03:42

Johannesburg - An aid agency issued a "crisis alert" Tuesday over war-torn Sudan, calling out the international community for its failure to address the civil war that has raged there for over a year. 

The International Rescue Committee warned that a risk of famine is looming and said the lack of any political solution has left Sudan on the brink of a "catastrophe of historic scale."

"The world is not watching us, we are heading for famine, massive loss of life, and a failed state," the IRC's country director for Sudan, Eatizaz Yousif, told CBS News.

Yousif warned that the world's worst displacement crisis was quickly becoming the world's worst hunger crisis – and that the situation was worsening.

Two million people could die of hunger-related causes if the situation does not improve and no additional humanitarian aid gets into the country, according to several humanitarian groups CBS News spoke to. IRC said it is too late to avert a major loss of life, but warned the country is on the brink of widespread famine, with some areas already in a famine-like situation. 

More than 222,000 children will die in the next few months if nothing changes, experts estimate.

UN Sudan
Sudanese children suffering from malnutrition are treated at an MSF clinic in Metche Camp, Chad, near the Sudanese border, on April 6, 2024.  Patricia Simon/AP

Over 10 million people have fled their homes and remain displaced inside the country. At least 2 million more have fled to refugee camps in neighboring nations.

In most parts of Sudan, no hospitals, banks or schools are functioning, aid agencies say. 

"We currently have 7 million kids in malnutrition, with all schools closed and more than 70% of hospitals closed," Yousif told CBS News, adding that his biggest overriding concern "is the collapse of the country into civil war and statelessness."

The U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization and its World Food Program, along with other agencies, are working to update their data, but say 3 million people in Sudan are living at the highest level of food insecurity, which indicates famine conditions, while another 18 million people are in need of emergency food assistance. 

The U.N. has stopped short of declaring a famine in Sudan as aid agencies have struggled to collect the necessary data to show the catastrophe meets the requirements for such a formal declaration. A famine declaration requires evidence that certain prescribed criteria on mortality rates, insecurity and other metrics have been met. It doesn't trigger any legal response, but can galvanize will in the international community to rush help to those in need.

Sudan's army – which has been at war with the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary faction since April 2023 – has prevented a lot of the data collection that would be required for a famine declaration, charity workers in the country have told CBS News. 

The worst-hit part of the country is the Darfur region, where international aid organizations have leveled allegations of genocide amid intense shelling in the city of El Fasher, which was once home to 3 million people. 

Residents in the region, now largely under RSF control, report hearing bombs throughout the day and night. The three hospitals in El Fasher, which has not fallen to RSF forces, have stopped functioning, and the city has little water. 

If RSF seizes El Fasher, the paramilitary group will control almost a third of Sudan, including its western borders with Libya, Chad, the Central African Republic and South Sudan, as well as Khartoum.

The military has started encouraging young men to take up arms to fight alongside the regular army, with rumors suggesting the RSF is using forced conscription in the Darfur region to bolster its numbers. 

No reliable death toll in the conflict is available, but it is widely thought that tens of thousands of people have been killed. Electricity, health and telecommunications infrastructure has largely been destroyed, and the government has been forced to move out of the capital Khartoum to the coastal city of Port Sudan.

The U.N. Security Council voted earlier this month to demand an immediate cease-fire in Darfur.

"This council has sent a strong signal to the parties to this conflict today, that this brutal and unjust conflict needs to end," Britain's U.N. ambassador Barbara Woodward said after the vote.

Aid workers who have spoken to CBS News say nothing has changed on the ground since that vote. And the U.N. has received only about 16% of the $2.6 billion it says is urgently needed to assist the Sudanese people.

There was hope over the last few weeks that pressure from the U.S. and other countries could help usher in a peace deal, but all lines seem to have gone quiet in spite of the regional and global security implications, Yousif said.

U.S. special envoy to Sudan Tom Perriello warned earlier this month that, without a lasting peace deal, Sudan will continue to unravel, and could spiral into a regional conflict with geopolitical implications.

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