Shining a light on Sudan’s other war

2016 could be the best year ever for children in Sudan. Only if…

I am a big fan of Winnie the Pooh books. Eeyore is my hero. I am sure that anyone old enough will remember the following quote:

“It’s snowing still,” said Eeyore. “And freezing. Is it?” “Yes,” said Eeyore. “However,” he said brightening a little, “we haven’t had an earthquake lately.”

A decade ago, the conflict in Darfur dominated news headlines, images of starving children with ribcages nearly piercing through their skin jolted the world into reaction. These days, a quick browse of the news brings stories of conflicts in Syria, Yemen and sometimes Central African Republic with little or no mention of Sudan. A country still plagued by conflict, grinding poverty and ever-increasing civilian casualties.

Despite staggering statistics such as 2 million malnourished children under the age of 5, the world has somehow managed to tuck Sudan into a little forgotten corner, Darfur disappeared from the headlines and dragged the rest of Sudan with it.

Children gather in a shelter seeking refuge in Bau locality in Blue Nile state.
Children gather in a shelter seeking refuge in Bau locality in Blue Nile state.

On my way to a field mission in Blue Nile state, a corner of Sudan which has quietly but violently erupted into war since 2011 – displacing hundreds of thousands of people – I grapple with the question, what makes one humanitarian emergency more ‘fashionable’ than the other? I have to admit, I use the word “emergency” recklessly here, implying recency and a possibility of it ending soon.

Upon further reflection, I ponder over what could be rhetorical questions. “Why is bombing of civilians especially women and children breaking news in one country but not even mentioned in others? Why it is that cities and areas under siege in one country is ignored but a major humanitarian outcry in another?”

The attention of the world in general tends to go towards the most dramatic and current crisis, the war in Blue Nile checks both boxes.

Perhaps the world has grown tired of putting band-aids on what sometimes seems like a gushing wound. However several million displaced and conflict‐affected people in Sudan deserve more than the purposeful suspension of awareness. The humanitarian imperative makes it clear that human suffering must be addressed, civilians and children bear the extent of the conflict now, and generations to come are at risk of bearing the brunt of what could be collective human failure.

Back to Eeyore… in the 3 years I have been serving in Sudan it was an Eeyore spirit on many occasions that helped UNICEF deliver for the millions of children facing multiple, protracted crises. Despite restricted access and dwindling funding landscape, UNICEF continues to provide nutrition interventions, clean water, build schools, construct latrines and remains the sole provider of vaccines in Sudan. Echoing the words of Blue Nile state Minister of Social welfare “UNICEF is a household name, ask pregnant mothers, health workers and children and they will tell you exactly what UNICEF does.”

As the humanitarian situation worsens, each day the world chooses to overlook what could be one of the worlds’ worst forgotten crisis it takes a further toll, we cannot continue the status quo, other urgent needs in the region should not eclipse those of the children of Sudan.

2016 can be the best year ever for children in Sudan. If the world acts now!

Geert Cappelaere joined UNICEF in September 2000, and served as Senior Child Protection Advisor in Geneva, Switzerland, New York HQ, and with the UNICEF Regional Office for the Middle East and North Africa in Amman, Jordan. Has served as UNICEF Representative in Sana’a.  Prior to the above assignment, he served as UNICEF Representative in Sierra Leone. And has been serving in Sudan since 2013.


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