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Ibrahim El-Salahi Pain Relief at The Saatchi Gallery, London

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Above, a street seller of nuts, seeds and biscuits in Khartoum. 

“60% of Sudan’s gross domestic product relies on the informal sector, and estimates indicate that women, who are simultaneously responsible for their nuclear and expanded families, make up more than 80% of the informal labor in Sudan.”  

Do’s and Don’ts: Coronavirus response

This is a literacy post for Women’s Education Partnership.  See Facts and Figures to learn more about our mission and impact. Half our literacy participants are the sole breadwinners in their families and rely on the informal economy for work. Learn more in At a Glance

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See Realities on the Ground – Sudan’s Health Context and Covid-19.

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Coronavirus in Sudan – Stepping Back from the Abyss

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img_4345Seller of prayer caps in Souq al Arabi, Khartoum.  How will this woman and her family survive under lockdown measures?

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Introduction 

“Pandemics are not equal-opportunity events.  The poor bear a disproportionate burden of morbidity and mortality. 

The Yale Review: Pandemic Inequality, The two worlds of social  distancing, by Octavio Luiz Motta Ferraz

“During the 2009 swine flu pandemic, wealthy countries secured large advance orders for vaccines, but despite the efforts of The World Health Organization to negotiate donations, poor countries were crowded out – receiving vaccines more slowly than rich countries.”

Pandemics and the poor Brookings

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A report prior to the coronavirus compared how prepared different countries were to respond to a pandemic, quoted in As Coronavirus spreads to poor countries…

Below, Khartoum street stalls, Souq al Arabi, pre-lockdown. 

img_4327“Poor nations with weak health systems are drowning in debt, while rich nations are showing they can unlock trillions to build new hospitals and keep their economies alive.” World Economic Forum,

As Coronavirus spreads to poor countries…

“When coronavirus spreads across Sudan on top of sanctions and a huge economic crisis, it will decimate crowded displacement camps, slums and community centres.”

A new Sudan faces corona with little support

img_4343What income source will these street barbers have in lockdown? See coming posts on the impact of lockdown in Sudan. 

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Economic and Geopolitical Realities – A Perfect Storm?

 Money  Food   Politics and Peace Endangered

“When a health crisis hits entire segments of society, it can set off a cycle in which declining economic status leads to rising rates of chronic illness. That, in turn, further depresses productivity and raises health care costs, leading to more poverty, which leads to more disease.  As Coronavirus Deepens Inequality, Inequality Worsens its Spread

See Coronavirus in Sudan – Stepping Back from the Abyss

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Money

“The cost of servicing our debts is already often more than our annual health budgets. Africa’s crippling debt burden in If Covid-19 isn’t beaten

Nowhere does the Pandemic-Inequality Feedback Loop” referred to above apply more cruelly than in sub-Saharan Africa.  Warning today of the inevitability of a world recession on a scale  unprecedented since the second world war (Andrew Marr BBC), The World Bank’s Managing Director of Operations, Axel van Trotsenburg outlined a 160 billion dollar relief fund for the world’s poorest nations and a proposed G20 moratoria on debt payments in an attempt to counter the economic chaos Covid-19 will bring in its wake. Enormous and hope-inspiring sums until you remember that Sudan, still subject to American sanctions impeding relief funding,  is already relying on unrealized promises of international aid: 

“Sudan’s aid appeal for 2020 is among the largest in the world, with US$1.3 billion needed to help those in need. But as little as 13 per cent of the appeal is funded so far.”

A new Sudan faces corona with little support

As the American government ordered its aid workers abroad to send all PPE in their possession back to the United States, the prospect grows of the prevailing response to the pandemic becoming one of economic nationalism, despite van Trotsenburg’s appeal for a global, internationalist approach and the acknowledged success of global cooperation in tackling the Ebola epidemic. See too “US accused of piracy’ over mask confiscation’. BBC News 4th April, 2020

At the same time, while those African states dependent on China for import / export trade have been hard hit by the economic slow-down effects of Covid-19 on China itself, China has “kicked its diplomatic machine into high gear to position itself as leading  international response” in Africa, donating 100,000 masks across the continent and announcing plans to build an African Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. (www.crisisgroup.org)

See too Triple hit in Africa on health, the economy and politics

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Hostage to shuddering global financial markets,  their debt ratings downgraded to junk, and the prospect of a 5-10% crash in African GDP,  African states know that the nature and quality of the international response to Covid-19 will determine their very survival. As western countries invest billions in their domestic response to the pandemic, there is no guarantee that they will ring fence their African aid budgets.  As Africa faces both “a loss of revenue and the need to ramp up spending on emergency health and counter lockdown”, The Financial Times reports Mr.Ofori-Atta, chairman of joint World Bank-IMF Development Committee’s plea for African liquidity support, together with both funds to fight Coronavirus and debt relief. (Sources: If Covid-19 isn’t beaten. and Officials warn Africa is at “break the glass” moment)

 “9 million Sudanese to rely on humanitarian assistance in 2020, of whom close to 1.9 million have fled their homes. In addition, Sudan is hosting more than a million refugees from neighbouring countries, including South Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia.Norwegian Refugee Council: A new Sudan faces corona with little support

See too Sudan needs $76m to combat coronavirus

“Sudan’s Drug Prices are Skyrocketing”, 2016 Aljazeera report. Many essential medicines are still in short supply today and prices prohibitive for the poor.  The Sudanese economy is still reeling from austerity policies of the previous regime, inflation and lack of hard currency.  

Sources of hard currency, essential to African states’ ability to buy vital equipment and medicines will vanish as international lockdowns are imposed and extended.   Two weeks ago, all gold mining in Darfur,  a major source of Sudan’s hard currency after the loss of oil revenues upon the secession of South Sudan, was banned as part of Covid-19 containment measures. 

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The central bank has been printing Sudanese pounds equivalent to $200 million a month to buy and export gold to finance subsidised commodities, mainly fuel and wheat, the finance ministry said in a 2020 budget statement last week.

This has led to the loss of control of the economy and the transformation of the economy into a state of explosive inflation and near freefall of the exchange rate in the parallel market,” it said.

January 2020 report: Sudan begins allowing traders to export gold

Lack of hard currency is not the only consequence of domestic and international containment measures. Sudan’ already fragile economy, with rampant inflation and 47% of its population living below the poverty line, is suffering soaring commodity prices as movement of goods is hampered and supply chains interrupted. The rocketing cost and growing shortage of fuel has exacerbated overcrowding and stoppages in public transport in densely populated areas – increasing the likelihood of virus spread – and will inevitably also hamper international humanitarian supply chains.  

See too Prices soar as Measures Bite

See more in the short video below:

See more in UNDP’s  Covid-19: Looming crisis in developing countries   

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Food  

An Average local food basket in Sudan takes up at least 75 per cent of household income OCHA Sudan.

Among van Trotsenburg’s darker predictions during his Andrew Marr interview was that of a looming food crisis for “the poorest of the poor” nations, predominantly reliant on imported food. Add to this the complexities of food distribution during lockdowns and food insecurity will be heightened in a country already suffering from significant undernutrition. Radio Dabanga has reported on government plans to organize staggered advance distribution of two and three months’ food supplies this April to avoid mass gatherings. See too Sudan bans maize exports over fear of coronavirus food shortage

Poorer nations face –

 disproportionate risk from supply chain failures, especially in the face of border-crossing closures. Finally, it is the impacts of farmers leaving their fields fallow (or facing delays in planting and harvesting) because of sickness and breakdowns in non-food supply chains, like fertilizer and other critical inputs, that may ultimately most impact developing country economies. Covid-19 and the five major threats it poses to global food security

Above, the aftermath of previous government policies reported in this 2017 video persist today, intensified by the Covid-19 crisis.

Some 2.4 million children suffer from malnutrition in Sudan, with close to 700,000 of those experiencing the most severe form.” (UNICEF). Maternal mortality as well as neonatal mortality is high in Sudan, falling well short of UNs  2030 Sustainable Development Goals. 

Read more here: UNICEF Sudan

See Nourishing the Next Generation to learn more about our nutrition awareness work in our community literacy program.

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For recent, in-depth geopolitical analysis of Sudan’s food crisis, read Dr. Edward Thomas and Magdi el-Gizouli’s Rift Valley Institute study – Sudan’s Grain Divide: A Revolution of Bread and Sorghum

Below, fruit and vegetable seller in Khartoum.

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Politics and Peace Endangered

“If the Sudanese do not feel that their situation improving, the transitional government could fail or be ousted, driving the country into chaos again. The world would then regret our inaction today.”

Jan Egeland, NRC Secretary General Norwegian Refugee Council: A new Sudan faces corona with little support

Sudan’s fragile transitional government faced extraordinary economic and political challenges before the pandemic.  If it is to survive, it will need to act decisively to mitigate  the economic and societal impact of Covid-19 on Sudanese life. Heavily reliant on international support for the transition process to democracy, the Sudanese government becomes exceptionally vulnerable as this support is undermined by pandemic priorities.See too Human Rights Watchreport: Sudan Should not let Covid-19 Scuttle Transition

The reversal of the former government’s expulsion of all major aid organizations will take time to have effect.  In March Prime Minister Dr. Abdullah Hamdok survived what is believed to have been an assassination attempt while on his way to central Khartoum.  See Sudan PM Abdalla Hamdok survives assassination attempt

See too: Sudanese Islamists hold 3rd protest

“A Security Council decision on setting up a new political mission to support Sudan’s transition to civilian rule appears likely to be postponed due to constraints on the Council’s meeting schedule to which its members agreed as part of virus containment measures”

Covid-19 and Conflict: Seven Trends to Watch

img_5737The pandemic may also hamper existing peace making efforts undertaken by international agencies – centerpiece of the transitional government’s policies to secure international investment and domestic security.  See Death of defense minister amid the coronavirus for more on this.  More too in coming posts. 

There are reports of growing unrest and violence as transport and food costs soar and containment measures rob poor Sudanese of their daily livelihoods.  This is accompanied by deepening political tensions and instability:

“On Friday, supporters of the deposed President Omar Al-Bashir stormed the prosecutor general’s office demanding the release of all regime figures to protect them from COVID-19. Prisoners include the former first lady Widad Babiker.”

“The protesters pointed to the release of prisoners in countries like Iran, where up to 54,000 prisoners have been released and 10,000 have been pardoned. Salah Abdel-Khaleq, a spokesman for the supporters of the ex-president, claimed at the protest that the Sudanese army is prepared to enter a new war in order to prevent the extradition of Al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court.”

Death of defense minister amid the coronavirus

See too: The Enemies of Sudan’s Democracy Are Lurking Everywhere and El-Bashir supporters demonstrate against Sudanese government

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There are also alarming reports of violence against medical staff leading to widespread strike action: 

“The Central Committee of the Sudanese Doctors, one of the syndicates that led the protests ending the rule of president Omar al-Bashir in April 2019,  said attacks on medical teams by security forces and civilians had become a common phenomenon, especially in emergency units across the country.”

Sudanese doctors under attack

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Conclusion 

Experts fear is that the factors outlined above may coalesce to create a perfect storm of catastrophic economic and humanitarian consequences for Sudan and its African neighbors, if Covid -19 containment measures prove unsuccessful and international relief don’t not come fast enough.   Experts also cautiously advise that there is still time to avert this – but only just.  

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See next week’s post on the impact of lockdown for Sudanese women.

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http://www.womenseducationpartnership.org

This is a literacy post for Women’s Education Partnership.  See At a Glance  and Facts and Figures to learn more about our mission and impact. Our target literacy participants score worst on every parameter of Individual Deprivation Indexes 

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