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Case Study

From Feasible to Life-Saving: The urgent case for cash at scale in Sudan

April 2024 — By Cash Consortium of Sudan

About 18 million people are currently facing crisis (IPC 3) or emergency (IPC 4) levels of food insecurity across Sudan. This means more than one in three people are suffering from acute hunger in the country. As the conflict rages on, food insecurity is rapidly deteriorating, and communities in many parts of the country are being pushed to starvation.

The humanitarian response has thus far not even come close to matching the scale and severity of people’s needs, and has prioritized distributing ‘in-kind’ (food, basic goods) over cash assistance. By prioritizing in-kind aid, humanitarian donors and responders are limiting the effectiveness of the response and risk undermining the local markets on which people desperately rely to cope with the crisis. Hampered by serious access constraints and high operational costs – particularly across borders – in-kind aid cannot reach people in need rapidly enough and at the scale required to prevent a potential famine. As a result, in many parts of the country communities requiring urgent food assistance to survive are not currently accessing any.

The potential of cash programming has been largely overlooked and underutilized in this response. Yet, in many contexts, the use of cash has been recognized as a key aid modality to prevent famine and support local markets to continue functioning through crisis. In Sudan, cash also offers the only option for life-saving assistance where in-kind aid delivery is constrained.

Ongoing analyses show that markets remain active and stocked with food and other essential goods in most areas across Sudan, including in states most severely affected by food insecurity such as West Darfur, Khartoum, or South Kordofan. However, people are currently unable to afford these goods due to loss of purchasing power during the war, and the lack of demand is putting existing local markets at risk.

Urgent action is required to help people access food through local markets and ensure that market actors can continue to operate, providing a lifeline for those facing high levels of food insecurity. Some initiatives – such as the Cash Consortium of Sudan – are already reaching people across the country with much needed cash, but the lack of dedicated funding to cash programming limits the reach and impact of these interventions. Therefore, donors and operational agencies alike should urgently adopt a cash-first approach, making cash programming the central pillar of the humanitarian response in Sudan.