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Sudan Conflict Amps Humanitarian Crises

FILE: People gather to ride trucks as they flee during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum North. Taken April 26, 2023.
FILE: People gather to ride trucks as they flee during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum North. Taken April 26, 2023.

Africa was already facing a deepening set of crises – from drought to floods and a growing list of armed conflicts – and now, according to an internal U.N. estimate obtained by Reuters, 5 million additional people in Sudan will require emergency assistance, half of them children.

By October, it has been estimated that some 860,000 people are expected to flee to neighboring countries including Chad, placing additional strain on nations already facing some of the world's most under-funded humanitarian crises.

The fighting in the capital Khartoum and other cities has so far killed 750 people, wounded thousands and uprooted hundreds of thousands, with many refugees fleeing the country.

Every day, hundreds of Sudanese trek across the desert scrubland and dry riverbeds that make up large sections of the country's 1,400-km border with Chad. Some 30,000 have arrived so far, according to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, which expects it will need to establish five new camps to accommodate them.

Yet a Reuters analysis of United Nations funding data for Africa shows financial support from key donor governments is dropping off.

Between 2021 and 2022, the continent's humanitarian needs rose by nearly 13%. But leading donors, including Canada, Sweden, Japan, Norway, and the Netherlands, all scaled back funding for Africa, the U.N. data showed.

"There is going to be less funding this year," the World Food Program's (WFP) new executive director, Cindy McCain, told Reuters during a visit to Somalia this month. "I pray that there won't be. But the reality of it is that there is going to be less."

Aid agencies are rushing to distribute emergency food and register new arrivals, but resources are tight. Even before the latest crisis, U.N. humanitarian appeals for Africa faced a $17-billion funding gap this year, risking leaving millions without lifesaving assistance.

Between 2020 and this year, Africa's needs reflected in U.N. appeals grew nearly 27%. But as wealthy countries began looking inward to shield their citizens from the COVID-19 pandemic, many cut back on humanitarian activities abroad.

Britain, for example, announced in 2021 it would temporarily reduce its aid budget to 0.5% of gross national income from 0.7% to pay for the pandemic response. Last year, it spent a third of its overseas aid budget housing refugees inside the UK, a British aid watchdog said in March.

"You've got this huge arc of misery across this part of Africa, and Sudan is just the latest crisis to be added to that in humanitarian terms," Andrew Mitchell, Britain's minister of state for development and Africa, said during a trip to Kenya this month.

"There's no question that very large amounts of money have been lost," Mitchell said, asked about Britain's aid budget.

Between 2020, when the U.K. was the third-biggest contributor to U.N. humanitarian appeals in Africa, and 2022, its contribution dropped by 55%. Mitchell declined to say how much the UK would contribute for 2023.

The United States has in recent years stepped in to fill gaps. Washington nearly doubled its contribution for the U.N.'s Africa appeals between 2020 and 2022. Last year, it provided nearly $6.4 billion, or over 56% of all funding.

That looks set to change, however.

U.S. lawmakers are now embroiled in a fight over the debt ceiling, with many Republicans focused on cutting budgets, not expanding them.

"With this Congress, it's unlikely there will be more supplemental funding," said one U.S. official involved in humanitarian response, who was not authorized to speak to the media.

Without it, overall U.S. humanitarian spending will fall by nearly 20% to $10.5 billion in 2023, with a further decline to $8.5 billion next year.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Funding for U.N. appeals does not reflect all donor money for Africa, but relief agencies and government officials say it is indicative of broader contribution trends.