Geneva, Switzerland – Thousands of children are feared to be dying in Sudan as violence, disease and severe malnutrition rip through the conflict-torn country, the United Nations said on Tuesday.
The UN refugee agency said more than 1,200 children in refugee camps had died since May due in part to a measles outbreak.
Thousands more were dying due to malnutrition and lack of health care, the UN’s children’s agency UNICEF said.
“UNICEF fears Sudan’s youngest citizens are entering a period of unprecedented mortality,” spokesman James Elder told reporters in Geneva. “We are really on the precipice.”
Sudan is being ripped apart by a violent conflict that erupted on April 15 between army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, who commands the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
The violence has killed at least 7,500 people across the country, according to a conservative estimate from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.
The war has also decimated already fragile infrastructure, shuttered 80 per cent of the country’s hospitals, displaced millions and plunged millions into acute hunger.
Newborns risk dying
The crisis is taking a particularly harsh toll on Sudan’s youngest residents.
The fighting has killed 435 children, according to official casualty numbers, but Elder said the true number of deaths was likely far higher.
UNICEF fears that ‘many thousands of children … will die in the next few months’, he said.
“We fear many thousands died in the last few months. And as long as this crisis continues, many, many thousands of children will continue to die.”
“It’s hard to quite understand what the world is waiting for,” he said.
Among other things, he said the ‘cruel disregard for civilians and the relentless attacks on health and nutrition services’ meant that many thousands of newborns risked 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 were due to be born in the country between October and December, at a time when nutrition services had been ‘devastated’.
“Every month, 55,000 children require treatment for the most lethal form of malnutrition and yet in Khartoum less than one in 50 nutrition centres is functional. In West Darfur it’s one in 10,” he said.
The UN refugee agency said its teams in Sudan’s White Nile state had determined that between May 15 and September 14, more than 1,200 children under the age of five had died across nine refugee camps.
Those camps were hosting mainly refugees from South Sudan and Ethiopia, Allen Maina, UNHCR chief of public health 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 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,” he said.
UNICEF also said it sorely lacked funds, noting that it had received just a quarter of the US$838mn it had requested to help 10mn children in Sudan.
“Such a funding gap will mean lives lost,” Elder said.