Situation Report

COVID-19 drives increase in needs across sectors

The number of registered COVID-19 cases in Sudan has surpassed the 6,000 mark three months after the first case was confirmed on 12 March. During this period, the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) confirmed that 401 people were killed by the corona virus. While the virus infected thousands and killed a few hundred people, and is straining the country’s healthcare system, the economic and food security impact dwarfs the health impact. 

Impact on food security

Like elsewhere around the world, the measures put in place by the Government of Sudan to contain and mitigate the massive spread of COVID-19 are exacerbating the depth and gravity of the economic crisis that Sudan has been grappling with over the past few year. 

These containment and control measures are restricting access to income-earning activities, resulting in real and immediate negative impacts on poor households’ ability to cover daily food needs. 

According to FEWS NET’s latest update on the impact of COVID-19 on food security, up to 7.5 million people in Sudan may need emergency food assistance in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic drives a global increase in needs.

The 2020 Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO) for Sudan estimated that 6.2 million people - 14.2 per cent of Sudan’s population - will need urgent and timely lifesaving food and livelihoods security support in 2020. The 2020 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) targeted 4.7 million for food and livelihood assistance. During the 1st quarter of 2020, food security and livelihoods (FSL) sector partners reached 1.7 million people – about 27 per cent of  the target – with food and livelihood assistance, according to the Q1 Monitoring Report.

FAO estimates that the combined adverse impacts of the COVID-19 in Sudan are being witnessed in all four-core dimensions of food security: availability, access, utilization and stability.  

According to FAO, food availability is affected due to labor shortage in the farms plus shortage [lack/increased cost] of transportation of food items. Access to food is affected because many of the micro-enterprises and petty/small informal businesses were restricted or curtailed, causing loss of income sources that enable vulnerable people to purchase food and other livelihood necessities. 

Food utilization is affected due to the restricted/limited food availability and access to food whereby vulnerable families are resorting to low quality and quantity of food that resulted in undernutrition. 

Above all, food stability is affected due to restrictions/interruptions of flow of goods and services that ensure safety nets and social protection of the vulnerable population, limited availability of water and sanitation services, plus disruptions of food chains and food production systems and depletion of food reserves that regulates and stabilize food availability, access and utilization.

Sudan’s Food Security Technical Secretariat (FSTS) projects that the consumption patterns will be shifted towards low quality and quantity food and this will increase malnutrition rates. 

In addition, there has been a significant increase in inflation rate from 82 per cent in March to almost 100 per cent by the end of April, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS). Rising inflation is disproportionately affecting the poor, vulnerable IDPs and refugees.

According to FEWS NET, an increased numbers of people, including protracted IDPs in Darfur and South Kordofan, and poor households in urban and rural areas most affected by COVID-19 control measures, are expected to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse food security outcomes through September 2020. Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are expected among IDPs in conflict-affected areas of Jebel Marra in Darfur and SPLM-N areas of South Kordofan as well as parts of Red Sea and Kassala during the peak of the lean season between June and September 2020.

Meanwhile, staple food prices have continued to increase more rapidly than normal in May. Prices for sorghum, millet, and wheat increased by 20 to 50 per cent between April and May. They have more than doubled compared to last year and are more than four times higher than the recent five-year average. The price increases are likely being driven by a combination of the continued macroeconomic crisis as well as COVID-19 control measures that are limiting market supply. The high prices, in combination with significant reductions in labor income, are likely to drive the humanitarian assistance needs well above average through at least September 2020, FEWS NET estimates. 

Impact on education

Measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, including closure of schools, are affecting children’s access to education and some may not be able to return to school. Following various interruptions in 2019, due to the political crisis, another prolonged closure of schools will impact learning. In many areas, where children and their families benefit from school feeding programmes, the closures will also affect their nutrition as the school meal often is the only stable food source they have. 

With the closure of schools on 15 March, more than 8.1 million schoolchildren are out of school, adding to the already 3.6 million children between 5 and 13 years who lacked access to education in Sudan. Most schools have been unable to complete the Grade 8 and Grade 11 school exams. Over 500,000 children (Grade 8 and Grade 11) will not be able to complete their exams until March 2021. Additionally, about 600,000 IDP children attending some form of learning in the camps and host communities are also affected. 

Social distancing measures have involved a significant reduction of staff in schools, with most staff having to work from home or remotely. School closures are disrupting children’s daily routines, putting additional stress on families. Government containment measures also involve the suspension of other social activities including games, weddings, prayers, etc., leaving children with limited options to socially connect. 

Additionally, over 1 million children who have been benefiting from the school meals program cannot access the meals due to the current lockdown.  School meals significantly contribute to improved attendance and retention of students, improved learning, as well as nutritional outcomes.  

New protection challenges

In the context of COVID-19, there are increasing risks of increased gender-based violence (GBV) and heightened risk of exploitation such as trafficking, child labor or early marriage for the approximately 1.87 million IDPs, and 1.1 million refugees, asylum seekers and returnees who live in congested areas. Groups particularly at risk of protection and exploitation include unemployed male, female youth, female heads of households, unaccompanied and separated children, elderly persons and person with disabilities, people with underlaying medical conditions, sexual gender-based violence (SGBV) survivors, and people with legal protection needs. 

Children on the street, children deprived of liberty, and children in state institutions may experience increased vulnerabilities resulting from limited access to basic health and WASH services.  The risk is particularly high in Khartoum and Gezira which have highest number of children living and working on the streets and now require lifesaving protection support.  

In mid-March 2020, the government closed all childcare facilities releasing children from reformatories, prisons and religious schools. Following this decision, child protection partners reported that about 65,000 unaccompanied and separated children need to be reunited with their families.

This will especially impact girls and boys in IDP camps and host communities who will lose physical interaction with peers and will not be able to engage in social activities that enhance their mental and social wellbeing. 

Refugee Multi-sector 

On 1 June 2020, the first confirmed refugee case of COVID-19 was reported in Kario refugee camp for South Sudanese in East Darfur. There are 1.1 million refugees living in Sudan. While official border entry points with neighbouring countries have closed, small numbers of refugees continue to arrive and are placed in a two-week quarantine, following the Government of Sudan’s protocols. Refugees in Sudan are highly vulnerable to COVID-19 due to overcrowding in refugee camps and settlement locations.  

Consequences of COVID-19 go beyond health, especially in urban and dispersed settings, but also in camps. Due to lockdowns and additional movement restrictions, refugees’ already limited livelihoods opportunities have been further reduced negatively affecting their self-reliance to provide for their basic needs. This is leaving refugees in a more vulnerable situation and at further risk of protection concerns such as sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), and negative coping mechanisms. The restrictions also prevent refugees from accessing sources of energy, such as charcoal or firewood, essential to cook and to provide energy to pump water to hand-washing facilities. This is compounded by a high inflation, fuel and bread shortages.