Skip to main content

“A war on women”: IDC evidence on the “forgotten conflict” in Sudan

25 April 2024

In evidence in Parliament from senior aid workers operating on the ground in Sudan, the International Development Committee heard horrifying stories of suffering, malnutrition and sexual violence and exploitation.

Evidence heard on the impact of the conflict in Sudan

The UN has described the war in Sudan as the “forgotten conflict”, and Mercy Corps Sudan’s country director Sibongani Kayola described how “one year of relentless fighting has created one of the worst humanitarian and hunger emergencies in recent history”. The UN has reported that in 2023 Sudan had largest number of people facing extreme food shortages in the world.

Mercy Corps stated the war in Sudan is a “war on women”. Stretched beyond all means after a year of war, women have no purchasing power and are vulnerable to exploitation; forced to engage in sex for money to survive or to marry off too-young daughters. There have been widespread allegations of war crimes and atrocities, including rape being used as a weapon of war. Social taboos and stigma around babies born out of wedlock in Sudan mean that now - one year into the war - UNICEF is seeing increasing numbers of those babies born of rape being abandoned in their first days of life, and many other children have been orphaned.

At just one large orphanage in Khartoum that was housing over 360 abandoned children, mostly under the age of two, sixty infants died within 4 weeks of the start of the war. Some of their carers had to flee the conflict, aid supplies were not getting in, and disease took hold.

UNICEF deputy country representative Mary Louise Eagleton described how 14 million of Sudan’s 24 million children (out of a total country population of 47 million) are in “dire need of urgent humanitarian assistance”. Previously functioning healthcare systems and sanitation have collapsed – the Committee heard there was not enough clean water even in health centres for drinking, never mind life-saving therapies like kidney dialysis - vaccination rates have dropped and preventable or nearly eliminated diseases are taking new hold. Khalid Osman, deputy Sudan director at the World Food Programme described apparently inexplicable difficulties getting visas for trained aid personnel, and Mercy Corps described how the cost of these up to 5-week delays could be counted in Sudanese lives.

4.6 million children have lost their homes, the largest displacement of children in the world. Overall Sudan’s is the largest displacement crisis in the world: nearly 9 million people (roughly the population of Switzerland) have fled their homes due to the conflict since it started last year. Refugees who had fled to Sudan from wider regional conflict have been displaced again, and are now returned to or refugees again in other fragile and conflict-riven states around.

18 million children have not been in school in Sudan for the last year. This is not just an urgent humanitarian crisis where UNICEF expects thousands more children could lose their lives in coming months, but already a generational catastrophe: a learning crisis of a scale and severity to “put Sudan’s future at stake”.

Chair's comment

International Development Committee Chair, Sarah Champion MP, said:

“This ‘forgotten conflict’ has become a horrific war on women and children and must have new global focus and effort. The UN is calling for $4.1 billion in aid, but UNICEF made clear to us that nowhere near enough has been pledged. Just as in Gaza, failures in the international humanitarian law system, of diplomacy and of deconfliction means that what little aid is trickling through is not getting to people who so desperately need it.

“Witnesses impressed upon us this crisis could rapidly become a regional one. I share that deep concern. The consequence of not acting could be catastrophic. The UK, UN security council and regional actors must act now and bring their influence to bear to get the recognition and resources commensurate to the regional, not country, crisis that this is.”

Further information

Image: Parliamentary Authority