Palais Briefing on the First UN mission to Khartoum State since war broke out in Sudan

This is a summary of what was said by Jill Lawler, Chief of Field Operations and Emergency for UNICEF in Sudan, to whom quoted text may be attributed - at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

15 March 2024

GENEVA, 15 March 2024: Last week, I led a team of 12 UNICEF staff on a mission to Omdurman, Khartoum. It was the first UN mission back to Khartoum, which has been under near-constant fire since the war broke out in April 2023.

Our objective was to understand as much as possible what the conditions are for children 11 months into the fighting, and to see first-hand the work we are supporting with local partners to deliver life-saving supplies and services, at least to the parts of Omdurman we were able to access.

At Al Nau hospital, one of the only hospitals in Khartoum with a functional and very crowded trauma ward, we met with two young people who had recent amputations – two young lives changed forever – and we learned from the hospital director that about 300 people had limbs amputated in the hospital in just the past month alone.

Doctors say that needs are growing. We saw two, sometimes three patients, sharing beds. Exhaustion among staff, many of whom are practically living in the hospital, and most of whom have not been paid regular salaries in months – is palpable, as is frustration at the lack of supplies, equipment and space.

At another hospital, we visited with malnourished children and their caregivers in total darkness because of electricity outages. The backup generator had failed about a week prior, so they were working in the dark and sustaining critical cold chain vaccines with ice packs. As we near the summer months those ice packs simply won’t last.  

During our visit, we learned that women and girls who had been raped in the first months of war are now delivering babies – some of whom have been abandoned to the care of hospital staff, who have built a nursery near the delivery ward.

We saw the UNICEF-supported Al Manara water treatment plant, which is the only one still functioning out of 13 plants in the Khartoum area, providing safe water to about 300,000 people in Omdurman. It too has been damaged by the fighting and is working at just 75 per cent capacity, but will cease to function in two weeks unless more chlorine to treat water can be brought in for that population.

Though we could hear sounds of artillery firing in the distance, there was a relative calm where we were, but there was an intense armed presence in the markets, on the streets and even in the hospitals. We saw many young people carrying arms. Not clear how old they were, but clearly young, and clearly not in schools, which have been shut since the start of the war.

Hunger is pervasive – it is the number one concern people expressed.

There’s food in the market, but it is simply unaffordable for most families, due in part to a continued telecommunications blackout that is preventing families from receiving much needed mobile cash.

We met one young mother at a hospital whose three-month-old little child was extremely sick because she couldn’t afford milk, so had substituted goat milk, which led to diarrheal conditions. She wasn’t the only one. The numbers of acutely malnourished children are rising, and the lean season hasn’t even begun. Nearly 3.7 million children are projected to be acutely malnourished this year in Sudan, including 730,000 who need lifesaving treatment.

The needs for children in Khartoum alone are massive. But this is also true in Darfur, where I was last month, on a cross-border mission through Chad. The scale and magnitude of needs for children across the country are simply staggering. Sudan is now the world’s largest displacement crisis. And some of the most vulnerable children are in the hardest-to-reach places.

Our asks are clear:

  • We need parties to the conflict to enable rapid, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian access – both across conflict lines within Sudan and across borders with Sudan’s neighboring countries. Chad has provided a crucial lifeline to communities in Darfur, and access through its border remains absolutely critical, along with access through South Sudan. 
  • Parties to the conflict have a moral imperative and legal responsibility to protect children. In particular, they must take concrete measures to prevent and end the killing and maiming of children; the recruitment and use of children in the conflict; and all forms of sexual violence.
  • From the international community, we need a massive mobilization of resources by the end of March so that humanitarian partners can get the supplies and capacity on the ground, in time, to limit the impending humanitarian catastrophe that we are seeing.  

As our Executive Director said last week – the brutal war in Sudan is pushing the country towards a famine and unless there is sufficient political will, attention and resources put towards the response now, we are looking at a potential catastrophic loss of lives.

Most importantly – 24 million children across Sudan need and deserve peace. They need a ceasefire. They need a lasting political solution. They need a chance to be children.



Media contacts

Marixie Mercado
Tel: +41 79 559 7172
Mira Nasser
Tel: +970 598 568 428


UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.

Follow UNICEF on TwitterFacebook, Instagram and YouTube