The civil conflict in the Ethiopian province of Tigray that began in November has displaced more than 62,000 refugees across the Sudan’s Eastern border. UNICEF is supporting the UNHCR led response, primarily addressing WASH and Child Protection needs, and also Health and Nutrition as well as Education.
The nationwide polio vaccination campaign went ahead reaching 8.2 million children under-five and accompanied by an outreach programme to inform communities of the benefits of vaccinating their children.
COVID-19 cases increased alongside the global “second wave” in November before reducing by the close of the year.
Sudan has confirmed its participation the the COVAX initiative with 3.39 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines planned for the first two quarters of the 2021.
Situation Overview and Humanitarian Needs
In the last quarter of 2020, Sudan’s humanitarian landscape was defined by three major issues: a) inter-tribal conflicts leading to loss of lives; b) internal displacements of approximately 100,000 people, and c) the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic with over 26,000 COVID-19 confirmed cases recorded and a case fatality rate among the highest globally.
The Transitional Government’s efforts to reverse the deterioration of the economy have been unsuccessful thus far. The public’s patience with the situation is waning with an increase in demonstrations over fuel, bread and cooking gas availability, the rise in the cost of living, lack of reform progress and slow application of justice, increases in petty crime, utility cuts and various groups dissatisfaction with the lack of benefits they feel are owed (ex-military personnel and other government employees). The increase in unrest has been felt around the country with almost daily occurrences in most major centres of one kind or another (sit-ins, roadblocks, marches etc.). Ethnic tensions and violence increased across the country in the latter part of the year, evolving into ethnic conflict in several parts of Darfur in beginning months of 2021. This is expected to maintain a significant burden on humanitarian services for the foreseeable future due to the displacement, trauma and protection issues created.
High-level negotiations between the Government of Sudan and international partners have yielded some progress, that said. The US officially lifted its designation of Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism enabling Khartoum to engage in talks with the international financial institutions over debt relief and to borrow money for development projects. Progress on the fixed currency exchange conundrum is expected in the first half of 2021, hopefully opening the country’s private sector to much-needed access to investment and technology and significantly easing the financial burden of bringing humanitarian funding into Sudan.
The Juba Peace Agreement signed in August was a political step forward in the overall peace process and UNICEF has continued to take advantage of the agreed humanitarian access to the Jebel Marra region in Darfur and areas in the Blue Nile controlled by SPLM-N Malik Agar, to reach people who have had no humanitarian assistance for close to twenty years despite years of war and isolation. Despite not signing the Agreement, the enclaves controlled by the SPLM-N Al Hilu faction in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile remain nominally open to humanitarian access, but progress in gaining regular engagement has been hindered in 2020 due to COVID-19 precautions and the early advent of the wet season. Hostilities continue between the Sudan Liberation Movement/ al-Nur (SLM-AW) and SAF and other factions, in the Western areas of Jebel Marra, causing displacement and loss of life, with currently little hope of ending hostilities in the short term. Political ramifications of the Juba Agreement are being felt in Khartoum with the inclusion of key Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) figures in the new Government announced in February including Mariam al-Mahdi (Daughter of National Ummah Party leader), appointed as the Foreign Minister and Gibril Ibrahim, (leader JEM) has become the Minister of Finance. Notably, the only female nominated by a military faction was Buthaina Ibrahim Dinar,
Minister of Federal Government for SPLM-N (Malik Agar).
Sudan continued its slow recovery from the unprecedented floods of the third quarter, which incurred a loss of over 100 lives, damaged infrastructure and displaced around one million people. Efforts to control and mitigate post-flood disease can be considered successful with no outbreak of cholera recorded, however, malaria remained prevalent. Sudan`s already fragile health system experienced shocks including the COVID-19 pandemic, re-emergence of polio and shortages of essential medicines. A vaccination campaign, the first to be held nationwide in response to the virus-detection, led by the Federal Ministry of Health, and supported by WHO and UNICEF vaccinated around 8.2 million children with the Oral Polio Vaccine.
COVID-19 cases increased with the global “second wave” in the last quarter of 2020, but began to decline by the end of December, a trend that has continued into January and February 2021. The average weekly number of cases was about 250 cases in November 2020 but dropped to around 100 cases in February. Compared to the first wave, the overall response significantly improved, including testing and case management capacities as well as Infection prevention and control. The engagement of the private facilities for testing and managing COVID-19 cases has expanded as well.
Sudan is confirmed to be participating in the COVAX initiative to introduce the COVID-19 vaccine with The National Vaccination and Deployment Plan (NVDP) finalized and approved. It requests a total of 17 million doses to cover 20 per cent of the population (8.5 million people) with two doses of the vaccine. COVAX has confirmed that Sudan will receive an initial allocation of 3.39 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines in the first two quarters of the year, of which about 40 per cent is expected to arrive in the first quarter of the year. Health care providers and those over 45 with medical conditions and at high risk are prioritised and the second tier all over 45 with medical conditions, essential frontline workers such as teachers as well as those in special conditions such as refugees and IDPs.
Regional geopolitical developments also affected Sudan with the civil war in Ethiopia resulting in over 60,000 new refugees arriving across the Eastern border of Sudan. Refugees appeared in greater numbers from 7 November onwards with 50,000 arrived by 5 December with distressing reports of harassment and violence as they made their way to Sudan. UNHCR and the government’s Sudanese Commissioner of Refugees (CoR) are leading the response with support from over 27 partners on the ground including UNICEF. Arrivals have been relocated from border entry points and transit centres to one of two sites, Um Rakuba and Tenetba which can accommodate 20,572 (now at capacity) and over 50,000 (currently around 14,000) respectively. Services continue to be established in both areas and challenges going into the rainy season are foreseen with flood mitigation measures being explored. The host community must also be considered during this crisis with a considerable burden placed upon resources shared with new arrivals. These also include ethnically Ethiopian host community members around Um Rakuba, who either arrived twenty years ago or are children of previous arrivals. This sub-group is particularly vulnerable as they are unable to utilise Sudanese services and are unable to access camp services for fear of being mistaken for a new arrival and the movement restrictions that entails.