Each year, the International Rescue Committee’s Emergency Watchlist analyzes which countries are most likely to experience a deteriorating humanitarian crisis. This year, Sudan tops the list due to escalating conflict, mass displacement, an economic crisis and a near collapse of health care services.

The power struggle between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) erupted into a large-scale conflict in April 2023 and has been driving humanitarian needs in the country ever since. Renewed clashes broke out in Al Jazirah State in December 2023, triggering a new round of displacements and interruptions of humanitarian operations. The IRC and other humanitarian organizations were forced to relocate their staff.

Before the conflict, Sudan was already experiencing a severe humanitarian crisis. Long-term political instability and economic pressures meant that  15.8 million people were in need of humanitarian aid. The conflict has only exacerbated these conditions, leaving almost 25 million people — more than half of Sudan’s population — in need. 

Amidst mass displacement and reports of mass killings, humanitarian access has been severely curtailed, making it extremely hard for aid to reach vulnerable communities.

The crisis is expected to deteriorate through 2024, driving further displacement and increasing risks across the region.

A mother and two daughters stare solemnly into the camera while posing for a portrait.
Aziza Ibrahim and her daughters are staying at a school that is operating as a shelter for people who have been displaced from Khartoum.
Photo: UNOCHA/Ala Kheir

What do the people of Sudan face today?

Before the outbreak of conflict, Sudan was already facing a humanitarian crisis due to extreme weather shocks, social and political unrest, and rising food prices that continue to drive poverty, hunger and displacement.

War continues to rage in Sudan

Conflict between the SAF and RSF erupted on April 15, 2023. While fighting has been chiefly concentrated in the country’s capital, Khartoum, the conflict has impacted other regions of the country. In Darfur, mass killings and displacement have led to reports of ethnic cleansing.

Over 12,000 people have been killed, with about 5.9 million displaced within the country, making it the largest internal displacement crisis globally. More than 7.2 million people have fled their homes, taking refuge inside and outside the country, with children representing about half of the people displaced. Sudan is now the country with the largest number of displaced people and the largest child displacement crisis in the world.

Expansion of the conflict into Sudan’s “breadbasket", Al Jazirah state, has displaced more than 500,000 people and has exacerbated the country’s food crisis. Meanwhile, the looting of businesses, markets and humanitarian aid warehouses will further contribute to food shortages.

While the conflict in Sudan continues to spread, humanitarian access has become more limited. Intense violence and movement restrictions on humanitarian actors have prevented the delivery of aid, especially in the south of Sudan where needs are highest. ACAPS has rated the constraints on humanitarian access in Sudan as extreme (5 out of 5).

As the conflict continues in the face of floundering diplomatic efforts, humanitarian needs will continue to rise–and the ability to meet them will fall.

People in Tunaydbah camp in Sudan sit on benches while an IRC staff member kneels in front of them.
Political unrest drives people away from their homes and into places like Tunaydbah camp in Sudan.
Photo: Khalid Alarabi/IRC

A health system on the brink of collapse

The conflict in Sudan has decimated the country’s public infrastructure, including the health system. The health care system is suffering from an acute lack of staff, funding and medical supplies in addition to repeated attacks, looting and occupation of medical facilities and hospitals. More than 70 percent of health facilities in conflict-affected regions of Sudan are inoperable or closed. 

The displacement of civilians has placed an additional strain on health care resources, as well as water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services. An outbreak of measles has claimed the lives of more than 1,000 children across Sudan. The country is also grappling with a severe cholera outbreak, with the number of suspected cases surpassing 8,500 in December 2023, having increased by 94% over the past month. With high rates of malnutrition, a debilitated health system and low levels of immunization, disease outbreaks will continue to have catastrophic impacts, particularly for children.

Economic crisis exacerbates widespread poverty

Prior to the outbreak of conflict, Sudan’s economy was marred by rampant inflation and shortages of essential goods, leading to protests across the country. Now, conflict has worsened the economic crisis.

Nearly half of Sudan’s population is unemployed while the Sudanese pound has lost at least 50 percent of its value. In Khartoum, factories, banks, shops and markets have been looted or damaged, further reducing the population’s access to goods, services and cash. Meanwhile, rampant inflation is set to persist in 2024, even in the unlikely scenario of a lasting ceasefire.

Children are at particular risk in Sudan. At least 10,400 schools in conflict-affected areas are shuttered, leaving an estimated 19 million children without education and at risk of abuse or exploitation.

17.7 million people face food insecurity

Sudan is facing extreme levels of food insecurity, with 17.7 million people—37% of the population—experiencing crisis (IPC 3) or worse levels. At crisis levels of food insecurity, families adopt negative coping strategies, like selling their possessions or marrying off their children, to secure enough food to meet their basic needs. At more extreme levels of food insecurity, hunger and starvation are a daily occurrence. 

The displacement stemming from Sudan’s conflict is driving labor shortages throughout the country. The cost of fuel is rising, impacting agricultural production, while high food prices and low purchasing power are driving increased humanitarian needs. Shortcomings in Sudan’s harvest season could push food prices even higher

Children play together at Tunaydbah camp, Sudan. Most of the children hold hands and form a circle around two children who complete an activity in the middle.
10-year old Mirkha playing football with his best friend Hafton and some other children in Tunaydbah camp, Sudan. Hafton and Mirkha are refugees from Tigray who fled to Sudan in search of safety. The boys attend the IRC's EU-funded safe spaces in the camp, and became friends through playing football together.
Photo: Khalid Alarabi

Accelerated displacement throughout Sudan

The conflict in Sudan has already led to extreme levels of displacement, both internally and across Sudan’s borders. The vast majority of those displaced by the current conflict, 5.9 million, remain in Sudan and live with host communities. That brings the total number of those internally displaced in Sudan to more than 9.6 million, the largest internal displacement crisis in the world.

Meanwhile, over 1.4 million people—mostly women and children—have fled Sudan to neighboring countries, including 484,000 that have arrived in Chad.  Sudan’s neighbors are now facing both a growing refugee crisis and risk of active conflict spilling over their borders. There is significant potential for the crisis in Sudan to develop into a regional one that engulfs multiple countries and drives catastrophic levels of need.

How is the IRC helping in Sudan?

The IRC has adapted and scaled up our programming in Sudan to address increased humanitarian needs. We are supporting people who have been displaced internally through economic empowerment services, health and nutrition, and water, sanitation and hygiene programs. 

The IRC also provides protection and empowerment services for women and children, including for gender-based violence survivors in Blue Nile, Gederaf, Khartoum and South Kordofan states. We have established a response in Aj Jazirah State, an office in Port Sudan, and are launching an emergency response in White Nile state which will deliver cash assistance, safe water, and sanitation and hygiene services to vulnerable communities.

The IRC aims to solidify its presence in new locations, such as the Red Sea and Darfur, to address gaps in humanitarian coverage and expand our programming in response to the enduring humanitarian crisis in Sudan.

Donate today to support the IRC’s work in Sudan and in more than 50 countries around the world.

Editor’s Note: Due to escalating violence, IRC operations were suspended in Al Jazirah state on December 20, 2023. The situation is being monitored and the IRC will renew operations when possible.

IRC staff at the Chad border supporting refugees from Sudan.
The IRC in Chad is providing water and mobile medical services to refugees from Sudan.
Photo: The IRC

How is the IRC helping Sudanese refugees?

Over 1.4 million asylum seekers have sought refuge in neighboring countries since April 2023. The IRC has expanded our critical services to support Sudanese refugees, including in Chad, Ethiopia, and South Sudan.

More than 484,000 people have crossed the border into Chad which already hosted 400,000 Sudanese refugees prior to the outbreak of conflict in April. Ninety percent of people arriving across the borders are women and children, with one-fifth of young children experiencing acute malnutrition.

“The fact that women and children make up such a large proportion of the new arrivals in Chad is particularly worrying because they are often the most vulnerable groups in conflict situations,” explains IRC Chad country director, Aleksandra Roulet-Cimpric. “Women and children are at greater risk of violence, exploitation, and abuse, and they may also face difficulties accessing basic necessities such as food, water and healthcare.”

In Chad, the IRC is providing drinking water and running mobile health clinics to attend to the vast health needs of the arriving population. In addition to providing immediate relief, the IRC is  working to scale up its support in the areas of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), health, and protection. This includes providing access to safe water and sanitation facilities, as well as promoting good hygiene practices to prevent the spread of disease.

A mother sits in a hospital room with a newborn child in her lap. Mosquito netting offers a thin veil of the room behind them.
Raouda* holds her newborn child, AbdelIrahim, in the IRC’s health center in Gaga refugee camp, Chad. Raouda was displaced by the war in Sudan and forced to flee across the border while she was nine months pregnant.
Photo: Chloé Leconte for the IRC

How can I help?

Donate now to support the IRC's life-changing work in Sudan and worldwide. We are on the frontlines providing critical aid to crisis-affected people in more than 50 countries, including places on the 2024 Emergency Watchlist.

Read more about the top 10 crises the world can’t ignore in 2024 and learn more about the IRC's 2024 Emergency Watchlist.