Sudanese children and families displaced by war are coping and surviving despite fear, trauma and terrible loss, with UNICEF's help. But much more needs to be done.
Six months into the conflict in Sudan, millions of children have suffered devastating loss, their childhoods brutally disrupted.
The country is now home to the largest number of internally displaced people in the world — more than 5 million people, half of them children. One million Sudanese have fled to neighboring countries.
Many children have seen friends and family members killed. Homes, schools and community spaces they once knew and held dear have been destroyed. They want peace and normalcy.
At a UNICEF-supported Child-Friendly Space in Port Sudan, children share their feelings.
"I miss my cat and books," says Majd, 10.
Fatima, 10, says: “I miss a lot of things like my toys and my dolls. I want go home."
Uprooted families surviving amid challenges
In pursuit of safe locations, families have endured a lot, including sleeping in the open and on the road. With most of their possessions left behind, many are struggling to cope and survive while their children, especially the youngest ones, suffer multiple deprivations.
“For three days, we slept on the street before we found a dormitory," says Malaz, 14. "Challenges awaited us at every corner."
At many gathering points for displaced families, parents and caregivers are taking turns cooking, feeding and nurturing children. They consider it a collective responsibility. Kids are making new friends and forming new routines to get through the day. Says Khalida, a mother in Port Sudan, Red Sea state: “I feel overwhelmed about the terrible situation we are in."
For displaced women and girls, it can be a struggle to find privacy and maintain dignity in the overcrowded spaces where they now reside. "I would wait for hours to go to the bathroom whenever I was on my period," Malaz says. “I wore black during those days and sat in the dormitory almost all day. It felt like a prison."
UNICEF helped improve the situation by distributing dignity kits containing soap, buckets, towels, underwear and sanitary pads.
Meeting urgent needs for health care, nutrition
Mounting health risks remain a major concern with medical supplies running low, health facilities under attack and water infrastructure falling into disrepair. Disease outbreaks are on the rise, and children are missing out on routine immunizations. Frontline health workers have not been paid in months.
UNICEF is working with partners to shore up primary health services, including vaccinations, and to make sure children with severe acute malnutrition are quickly identified and treated. With UNICEF and partners' help, Sudan's Ministry of Health has been able to keep primary health care centers and outpatient therapeutic programs functioning — ensuring timely treatment and saving lives.
To improve access to safe water, UNICEF is trucking it into areas hosting displaced families while also helping to rehabilitate local water systems — all critical for preventing the spread of cholera and other waterborne diseases.
Protecting out-of-school children, supporting their mental well-being
Even before fighting erupted in Khartoum last April, Sudan was in the midst of a learning crisis. Now the war is keeping 19 million school-age children out of school, and cut off from what is often the only place not only to learn but to find hope, solace and support from peers and teachers — and protection from violence, exploitation and abuse.
UNICEF has set up a number of Child-Friendly Spaces to help fill that void — safe spaces where children can come together to learn and play while also receiving critical water, sanitation, hygiene and health care services.
The Abnaa Al-Shamal Child-Friendly Space in Port Sudan serves about 100 children every day. Children can engage in digital learning and table games, and study English and Arabic. UNICEF-trained social workers are on hand daily to provide psychosocial support, organizing activities like drawing that are simple yet effective for helping children to heal from the traumas they've experienced.
“My son Radwan was drawing corpses, telling me how he saw people getting killed," one mother shared. "But the counselor has told me that he is now using colors orange and red, a good sign that he will get better."
A look at UNICEF's impact in Sudan, by the numbers
UNICEF remains on the ground in Sudan delivering emergency relief to children and families in need. In the past six months, UNICEF has reached:
- 5.7 million people with health supplies
- 3.4 million people with safe drinking water
- 3.2 million children with malnutrition screening – of whom around 201,500 received lifesaving treatment
- 529,500 children and caregivers with psychosocial counseling, learning and protection services at 739 safe spaces
- 50,000 new mothers with humanitarian cash assistance, benefiting 300,000 household members
UNICEF High Performance Tents are being used to house the safe spaces and to support service delivery.
Young lives on the line
While UNICEF and partners continue to work around the clock to address urgent needs and alleviate suffering, the conflict must stop for every child to be reached.
More funding support is needed to enable UNICEF to meet its target of reaching 10 million children with emergency assistance and to keep basic social services going.
In a statement following a visit to Sudan in mid September, UNICEF Spokesperson James Elder noted that 333,000 children will be born in Sudan between October and December. "They and their mothers need skilled delivery care; however, in a country where millions are either trapped in war zones or displaced, and where there are grave shortages of medical supplies, such care is becoming less likely by the day," he said.
"Nutrition services are equally devastated," Elder added. "Every month, 55,000 children require treatment for the most lethal form of malnutrition. In Khartoum, less than one in 50 nutrition centers is functional. In West Darfur, it's one in 10."
Officially, 435 children have been killed in fighting since the start of the conflict. "Given the utter devastation to the lifesaving services children rely on," Elder said, "UNICEF fears Sudan’s youngest citizens are entering a period of unprecedented mortality."