The United Nations said on Tuesday it was concerned that thousands of children in Sudan may be dying from violence, disease and severe malnutrition in the conflict-torn country.
The UN refugee agency said more than 1,200 children have died in refugee camps since May, partly as a result of an outbreak of measles. Thousands more die due to malnutrition and a lack of health care, the UN children’s agency Unicef said.
“Unicef fears that Sudan’s youngest citizens are entering a period of unprecedented deaths,” spokesman James Elder told reporters in Geneva. “We are really on the edge.”
Sudan is currently experiencing a violent conflict that broke out on April 15 between army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, head of the paramilitary Rapid Support Force (RSF). At least 7,500 people across the country have already died as a result of the violence, according to a conservative estimate from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.
The war has also already destroyed infrastructure, closed 80% of the country’s hospitals, displaced millions of people and millions of citizens are experiencing acute starvation.
The crisis has a particularly heavy burden on Sudan’s youngest inhabitants. At least 435 children have already died according to official casualty figures, but Elder said the actual death toll was likely much higher.
Unicef fears that “many thousands of children … will die in the next few months,” he added. “We fear thousands have died in the past few months. And as long as this crisis continues, many, many thousands more children will die. It’s hard to understand what the world is waiting for.”
He said, among other things, that the “cruelty to civilians and the merciless attacks on health and nutrition services” mean that many thousands of newborns are at risk of dying by the end of the year.
The World Health Organization has verified 56 attacks on health care facilities and personnel since the start of the conflict, resulting in at least 11 deaths and 38 injuries.
Elder pointed out that 333,000 children will be born in the country between October and December, at a time when nutrition services are “devastated”.
“Every month, 55,000 children need treatment for the most deadly form of malnutrition, and yet less than one in 50 feeding centers in Khartoum are functional. In West Darfur it is one in 10,” he said.
The UN refugee agency said its teams in Sudan’s White Nile region had determined that between May 15 and September 14, more than 1,200 children under the age of five died in nine refugee camps. Those camps housed mainly refugees from South Sudan and Ethiopia, UNHCR head of public health Allen Maina told reporters.
Another 3,100 suspected cases of measles were also reported in the same period, as well as more than 500 suspected cases of cholera in other parts of the country, along with outbreaks of dengue fever and malaria, the agency said.
“The world has the means and the money to prevent every one of these deaths from measles or malnutrition,” UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi said in a statement. “We can prevent more deaths, but need money for the response, access to those in need, and above all, an end to the fighting.”
Unicef also said it was in urgent need of money, noting that it had received only a quarter of the $838 million it requested to help 10 million children in Sudan.
“Such a financial gap will cost lives,” Elder added.