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People eating ‘grass and peanut shells’ in Darfur, UN says, as hunger crisis engulfs war-ravaged Sudan

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Time is running out to prevent starvation in Darfur, in western Sudan, a UN agency has warned, as escalating violence devastates the African nation.

People have been forced to consume “grass and peanut shells,” the regional director for Eastern Africa of the World Food Programme (WFP) said on Friday. “If assistance doesn’t reach them soon, we risk witnessing widespread starvation and death in Darfur and across other conflict-affected areas in Sudan,” Michael Dunford added.

Sudan has been gripped by civil war since April 2023, when fighting erupted between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). It quickly descended into a brutal conflict characterized by reports of sexual and genocidal violence and civilian casualties, triggering an exodus of refugees.

On Thursday, two International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) drivers were killed by gunmen in South Darfur, in an attack that left three other staff members injured, according to the humanitarian organization.

The ICRC team was attacked en route to assess the crisis among communities affected by armed violence in the region, the organization said.

The latest surge in violence comes as the RSF encircles North Darfur’s capital, El Fasher.

In the city and its surrounding localities, there have been “increasing arbitrary killings,” systematic “burning of entire villages” and “escalating air bombardments,” the UN deputy humanitarian coordinator for Sudan, Toby Hayward, said on Thursday.

Hayward added that El Fasher is the only city in Darfur that has not been captured by the RSF and hosts thousands of people who have been displaced by the war. At least 500,000 of those sheltering in the city have been displaced from violence elsewhere in Sudan, according to the UN’s children’s agency (UNICEF).

More than 36,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in El Fasher in recent weeks, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported.

At least 43 people have been killed in and around the city since the escalation of fighting a little over two weeks ago, UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell said on Thursday.

“Recent attacks on more than a dozen villages in western El Fasher have resulted in horrific reports of violence, including sexual violence, children injured and killed, homes set on fire, and destruction of critical civilian supplies and infrastructure,” Russell detailed.

Meanwhile, deliveries of food assistance in Darfur “have been intermittent due to fighting and endless bureaucratic hurdles” and at least 1.7 million people within the region are experiencing emergency levels of hunger, according to the World Food Programme.

“The latest escalation of violence around El Fasher has halted aid convoys coming from Chad’s Tine border crossing – a recently opened humanitarian corridor that passes through North Darfur’s capital,” the WFP added. Restrictions imposed by authorities in the coastal town of Port Sudan have hindered aid deliveries, the WFP said, preventing the transportation of relief via Adré, a town in neighboring Chad.

More than 8.7 million people, including 4.6 million children, have been displaced by the war in Sudan and 24.8 million need assistance, according to OCHA.

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