The conflict in Sudan has been described by the UNICEF Representative as a terrible ordeal for the country’s children.
“Sudan is experiencing a humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions. It’s a living nightmare for children,” Mandeep O’Brien said this week in an interview with UN News.
It has been almost 10 months since confrontations broke out between the Sudanese Army and a competing faction called the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), resulting in 14 million children requiring urgent help for survival.
Child displacement crisis
Ms. O’Brien stated that the conflict has caused the biggest crisis of displacement for children in the world. Over 3.5 million young people have been forced to leave their homes in search of safer places, often having to relocate multiple times.
Unfortunately, the negative updates persist as over 7.4 million youth in Sudan lack access to clean drinking water, leaving them vulnerable to illnesses caused by contaminated water. Additionally, nearly two million individuals are in dire need of crucial vaccinations to save their lives.
Sudan has a high prevalence of malnutrition among children, with over three million children under the age of five experiencing acute malnutrition. If left untreated, 700,000 of these children could face the most severe consequences and potentially lose their lives.
Additionally, Sudan is facing the potential of becoming one of the most severe learning crises globally as 19 million children of school age are not currently attending classes.
“Consider the potential consequences for our country if children are unable to receive an education,” Ms. O’Brien stated. “According to our projections, Sudan could potentially experience a loss of $26 billion in lifetime earnings if this situation persists.”
Education is a potent means of promoting peace as it creates a sense of security and protection for children in classrooms, allowing them to coexist peacefully.
“We must not overlook these principles. Children must actively embody and engage in these principles.”
Rephrase: Allow schools to resume in-person instruction and provide compensation for educators.
UNICEF has been advocating for the reopening of schools by Sudanese federal and state authorities, but Ms. O’Brien highlighted another obstacle to education.
“For that to happen, teachers need to be paid,” she said. “Sadly, since the onset of this war, teachers and other frontline workers have not been paid their salaries, so this has to happen.”
In the meantime, UNICEF and its collaborators have been investigating feasible strategies and methods to assist in the secure reopening of schools where circumstances permit, while also striving to reach a larger number of young students.
Expanding the ‘learning loop’
She stated that efforts are being made to include as many children as possible in the learning process through alternative methods, especially for those who were unable to attend school or were not previously enrolled due to the conflict.
To cater to the requirements of these individuals, UNICEF and its collaborators have initiated the establishment of child-friendly areas at designated locations for those who have been displaced within their own country.
Rephrased: These are called “makanna,” which is the Arabic word for “our place.” They are designated areas where children can receive education through e-learning and affordable digital solutions while feeling secure and shielded.
Over 850 makannas have been deployed in Sudan, providing assistance to over 250,000 children who are also receiving psychosocial care to help heal from the effects of war.
The ongoing dispute has put a strain on Sudan’s healthcare system. UNICEF, in collaboration with the World Health Organization and other organizations, is working with the government to provide essential services during disease outbreaks and conducting immunization campaigns for children.
Ms. O’Brien reported that over one million children have been immunized against measles, a highly concerning disease that is currently spreading.
This week, a new effort began to fight against measles and rubella, initiated with support from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (Gavi). The goal is to administer vaccinations to over five million children in seven states by the end of the week, and to reach 15 million children in the upcoming months.
Appeal for peace
Despite concerns that Sudan may be overlooked due to ongoing conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine, Ms. O’Brien emphasized UNICEF’s dedication to remaining present and providing aid on the front lines alongside their partners.
In the previous year, they were able to reach a total of 6.4 million children and families by providing essential health supplies and conducting screenings for malnutrition in over five million children under the age of five. They also treated more than 300,000 severe cases.
She requested additional funding to address the increasing demands of children, women, and families.
She emphasized the need for collaboration among international and regional initiatives to help Sudan reach a political resolution to the destruction. She stated that the ongoing war must come to an end, as peace is crucial for Sudan’s well-being.