Six-year-old Fatima, a child displaced by war, fled Khartoum with her family and is receiving support from UNICEF at the Alshargia safe learning space, or makanna, in Kassala state.
Emergency Response

UNICEF Issues Urgent Appeal for Children Suffering in Sudan's Brutal War

Children continue to bear the brunt of Sudan’s civil war as the conflict enters its second year. UNICEF is on the ground inside Sudan working alongside local partners to deliver lifesaving support and protection. But with child malnutrition climbing and famine looming, more donor funding is urgently needed to scale the response.


UNICEF warns an entire generation of children in Sudan face catastrophe as war enters second year

On April 15, 2023, clashes erupted between the Sudanese Army and a rival group known as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, and quickly spread to other regions of the country.

One year later, 14 million children in Sudan remain in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. Famine is looking increasingly likely, especially in Darfur, Khartoum and Kordofan, all conflict hotspots. Children are hungry and without health care and other basic services. Safety risks abound: grave violations — killings and maimings, sexual violence, child soldier recruitment — have increased fivefold since 2022.

With over 4 million children forced to flee their homes — in many cases more than once — the country is now host to the largest child displacement crisis in the world. An estimated 1 million displaced children are living as refugees in Chad, Egypt and South Sudan — arriving in already vulnerable, underserved communities struggling with their own emergencies.

And with all schools closed, Sudan also represents one of the worst education crises in the world: more than 90 percent of the country's 19 million school-age children lack access to formal education, threatening a generational crisis.

4 million children in Sudan projected to suffer from acute malnutrition this year

One of the most pressing concerns is the rapidly climbing rate of child malnutrition. UNICEF estimates that close to 4 million children under age 5 are projected to suffer from acute malnutrition this year — 730,000 of whom will die from severe cases unless treated immediately.

Routine immunization coverage has dropped precipitously — in the Darfur region it's down to 30 percent — sharply increasing the risks of measles, malaria and other disease outbreaks. Water infrastructure has been destroyed, magnifying the risks of waterborne diseases; there have already been close to 11,000 reported cases of cholera with acute watery diarrhea, with 300 deaths.

Displaced children are screened for malnutrition at Alnahda gathering point, River Nile state, Sudan.
At Alnahda gathering point in River Nile state, Sudan, a child is screened for malnutrition. UNICEF is working with local partners to reach children and families in need with emergency assistance — but more support is needed to help scale the response amid escalating risks of disease and death. © UNICEF/UNI530171/Mohamdeen

“This brutal war and potential famine is creating an ominous environment for a catastrophic loss of children’s lives,” UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, Ted Chaiban said in a statement released April 14. “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 fulfill our humanitarian mandate — without politicizing aid.”

UNICEF is inside Sudan working alongside local partners to provide children with safety, nutrition, safe water and essential health services, including vaccinations, and to create opportunities for children to play and learn alongside their peers — activities considered essential for their protection and well-being.

But much more needs to be done.

“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,” Chaiban said. “These numbers represent millions of children with names, stories, hopes and dreams. Yet without significant scale up of critical lifesaving 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.”

The impact of UNICEF’s emergency response in Sudan so far

In 2023, working alongside partners, UNICEF reached 6.4 million people with health supplies and 5.9 million people with safe drinking water, and screened 5.4 million children for malnutrition — 313,400 of whom received lifesaving treatment. Over 15 metric tons of vital supplies were distributed across the country.

Using a complementary bowl and spoon, a mother in Kassala state, Sudan, feeds her child during a demonstration related to child nutrition led by a UNICEF-trained member of a Mother Support Group.
In Kassala state, UNICEF-established Mother Support Groups are helping community members learn proper infant and young child feeding practices, utilizing readily available food sources. Some mothers have started their own vegetable gardens, with UNICEF's help. Once trained, each mother is tasked with training at least 10 other mothers. Poor diets and inadequate nutrition practices contribute significantly to Sudan's child malnutrition crisis — which has only escalated since the civil war started on April 15, 2023. UNICEF's emergency response includes a multi-system approach focusing on prevention, early detection and treatment. © UNICEF/UNI526514/Mohamdeen

UNICEF has also reached over 870,000 children with psychosocial support to help them heal from the trauma of war, at child-friendly spaces and safe learning spaces set up in areas where families have fled to escape violence. Donor contributions toward testing and scaling these spaces — hubs of support that also offer safe water and health care — have gone a long way toward making kids feel safe, protected and enabling them to continue to learn. There is digital learning available on solar-powered tablets.

And yet more resources are needed to sustain and scale emergency services as famine looms.

UNICEF’s strategy in Sudan: scale lifesaving support as quickly as possible while advocating for peace

UNICEF is committed to staying and delivering for the children of Sudan. Efforts are focused on continuing basic services through existing systems while also working to restore and/or improve those systems wherever possible, so that children can get the nutrition, safe water and sanitation and primary health care they need, including essential vaccines to protect against measles, polio and cholera. In other areas, UNICEF is providing essential health services through mobile clinics. 

A child in Madani, Gezira state, Sudan, holds his vaccination card showing that he has been vaccinated for cholera as part of a UNICEF-supported emergency immunization campaign.
Health services in Sudan have been severely impacted and disrupted by the ongoing war, and outbreaks of diseases like cholera, dengue fever and measles are putting the lives of children at risk. Above, a child in Madani, Gezira state, holds a vaccination card indicating he has been vaccinated for cholera as part of an ongoing UNICEF-supported immunization campaign. In February 2024 alone, UNICEF provided essential health care supplies to cholera treatment units in Khartoum and Gezira states, benefiting 422,000 people, and, in collaboration with partners, reached 1.8 million people with oral cholera vaccines in six targeted localities in Kassala and Red Sea states. © UNICEF/UNI476537/Mohamdeen

The most vulnerable children are in 135 localities spread across Darfur, Kordofan and Khartoum states. In states where there is active fighting, UNICEF is providing child protection services. In eight states where there is relative calm, UNICEF is reaching displaced children and families with a range of services and support.

UNICEF is appealing for $240 million for the next six months to prevent famine in 93 of the most vulnerable localities, home to 3.5 million children under 5. UNICEF also continues to urge warring parties to stop hostilities and to ensure safe, sustained and unimpeded access for the delivery of humanitarian aid into and throughout Sudan. 

“After 365 days of conflict, the children of Sudan remain at the sharp end of a horrific war,"  Chaiban said. “If immediate steps are not taken to halt the violence, facilitate humanitarian access and provide lifesaving aid to those in need, an even worse catastrophe is likely to impact children for many years to come.” 

Seven displaced children carrying UNICEF backpacks and their teacher head to the safe learning space UNICEF established at the At Al Salam displacement camp in Kassala state, Sudan.
Nine-year-old Alsmany, third from right, walks with his teacher and other displaced children to the UNICEF-supported safe learning space at At Al Salam displacement camp in Kassala, a Sudanese border state where many people displaced by war have come seeking safety. Alsmany, who was born with disabilities, is continuing his education through a digital learning program funded by UNICEF partners. Displacement is especially challenging for children with disabilities, who often face discrimination and difficulty adjusting to new surroundings, so UNICEF works to ensure safe spaces are inclusive. “We focus on all children, both displaced and those from host communities, and pay special attention to children with special needs,” says UNICEF Education Officer Jabir Adomah. © UNICEF/UNI529001/Mohamdeen

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TOP PHOTO: Fatima, 6, and her family fled Khartoum for Gezira state when civil war started in April 2023, and were later displaced again, arriving in Kassala state in November. Fatima and her siblings Yassin and Shahd spend their days at the UNICEF-supported Alshargia makanna, or safe space, where they play and learn and interact with their peers. "I am hoping this will help them in their recovery journey,” says their mother Nema. “My favorite activities at the makanna are skipping and the swing,” Fatima says. © UNICEF/UNI545672/Mohamdeen