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Sudan is on the brink of famine after a year of civil war

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Sudan's civil war has brought the country to the brink of famine. Aid agencies are now warning that three-quarters of a million people face starvation in the coming months. That's on top of the thousands of people who have died in the conflict and the more than 10 million people who have had to flee their homes, creating the world's largest displacement crisis. Alan Boswell is the project director for the Horn of Africa at the International Crisis Group, and he joins us now. Thanks for making the time.

ALAN BOSWELL: Thanks for having me on.

RASCOE: So the war's now a year old. Can you remind us what caused this conflict?

BOSWELL: Yeah, the best way to think about this conflict is to remember that the Sudanese people over threw their longtime dictator, Omar al-Bashir, back in 2019. When they overthrew him, it left the country basically in the control of the two largest standing armies in the country, one of which was the formal military known as the Sudanese Armed Forces. But the other one was this paramilitary force, the Rapid Support Forces, which had hailed mostly from the Darfur region.

Bashir did this as a form of what's called coup proofing. Basically, make sure neither - the army couldn't overthrow him and also no one else was powerful enough to do so. But the big concern when the Sudanese overthrew him was that, basically, these two armies would fall into their own power struggle, and that is what has happened.

RASCOE: So the country now faces this devastating famine. How has the conflict created these conditions?

BOSWELL: So first of all, the displacement - so you have millions of Sudanese who fled their homes. Of course, that means millions of Sudanese are no longer farming. But then on top of that, you've had massive looting, so people have lost all their livelihoods and wealth. But both sides of the war have also been besieging populations. And humanitarian aid has become a weapon in the war, too, with both sides basically trying to cut it off from areas controlled by their opponents.

RASCOE: One of the worst affected areas is Darfur in the west of the country. Can you tell us more about the situation there?

BOSWELL: So Darfur is now mostly in the hands of the Rapid Support Forces, this paramilitary group, and they themselves arise pretty much out of the Janjaweed, which was this militia used 20 years ago by the Bashir regime for fighting a counterinsurgency in Darfur. And maybe many listeners might remember that that earned Bashir an indictment for genocide at the International Criminal Court, and it was this Janjaweed militia which perpetrated most of those atrocities. And so this paramilitary force is now in control of most of Darfur. That's obviously a very grim situation.

And then, meanwhile, there is one final city that the Sudanese army still controls, and the Rapid Support Forces has surrounded it, besieged it. You have something like a million civilians, many of whom have fled from other parts of the region to this sort of last-standing bastion who are in the crossfire. And so on top of it all, you have this escalating conflict over this one remaining standing town as well in the hands of the army.

RASCOE: What more could regional powers and the United States do to stop the fighting?

BOSWELL: Well, what's been really missing has just been high-level attention on Sudan. Most of the world's attention has been focused on Ukraine and then recently on Gaza. The two belligerents in this war have basically been allowed to continue fighting this war with very little outside pressure. At the moment, the head of the Sudanese army is publicly refusing to go back for peace talks. You have multiple outside powers who are arming one of the two sides in the civil war and really fueling it.

Also, the war is becoming harder and harder to resolve because it's spreading. It's fragmenting. We have something like state collapse. And we'll have a scenario like we've had in Somalia, where putting together a state becomes a decadeslong project and very difficult to do.

RASCOE: That's Alan Boswell of the International Crisis Group. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

BOSWELL: Thank you so much for focusing on this. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.