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Sudan’s soup kitchens offer a lifeline to thousands of civilians

Sudan’s soup kitchens offer a lifeline to thousands of hungry civilians

Amid the ongoing war in Sudan, community kitchens like It’aam have become vital for trapped families, despite facing significant funding and security challenges.

Heavy fighting in Omdurman, Sudan, and the shortages of food and services that followed pushed Halima Hussein, 53, a mother of four, to flee to the relatively safer neighborhood of Al-Thawra, west of Khartoum.

Although it was a 15-minute drive, the road was still fraught with danger as Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and Sudanese Armed Forces soldiers exchanged fire in a contest for control of the capital.

Hussein and his family narrowly escaped the dangerous crossfire and eventually made it to safety.

Hussein arrived in Al-Thawra with nothing but the haunting echoes of his children’s empty stomachs, a sound far more painful than the distant crack of gunfire from those they had just escaped.

“As the war continues for so long, we can do nothing but wait for God’s mercy,” he said. The new arab.

Hussein found refuge at the local tekkeyah, a cooperative soup kitchen that provides free meals to internally displaced people through contributions from locals, businesses, charities and dedicated young volunteers.

Sudan is on the brink of a catastrophic hunger crisis after nearly a year of war.

Hussein is one of 25 million people in desperate need of humanitarian aid, and more than 18 million others are severely food insecure.

In the face of these terrible circumstances, Sudan’s soup kitchens offer a lifeline to thousands of civilians affected by hunger.

“UN WFP is working to coordinate efforts with several local food canteens and emergency response teams to address the hunger crisis in areas where access is relatively safe,” said Mohamed Gamal Al-Amin, WFP’s national spokesperson in Sudan.

A way out of hunger

At least 700 soup kitchens can be found in several Khartoum neighborhoods, each serving about 300 families, according to Emergency Response Rooms (ERR), an independent youth-led aid group.

Over the past year, the organization installed 418 kitchens in the capital, helping more than four million Sudanese. However, as the conflict drags on, it now faces funding shortfalls, forcing most initiatives to limit most kitchens to one meal per day per person.

“We know it’s not enough, but it’s better than nothing,” says Abdullah Mohammed Saleh, EER program coordinator.

Moez Al-Zein, a member of the Localization Coordination Council, believes that the war has transformed humanitarian efforts in Sudan, and now “locals are taking charge, deciding priorities, organizing funding and implementing solutions for their communities.”

His group works mainly in Sharq Al-Nile, Khartoum, where emergency wards use small-scale urban agriculture to supply community kitchens amid food shortages because, for council volunteers, these kitchens go beyond of feeding people, “acting as centers for the community.” discussions, psychological support and even informal education for children.”

“Our goal is to ensure that kitchens and shelters in all neighborhoods are covered so that no one dies of malnutrition or hunger, which is the stark reality we face today,” says Al-Zein. The new arab.

“We also strive to keep services uninterrupted, as 90 percent of citizens in conflict zones rely exclusively on food and services provided by emergency relief efforts.”

According to Hisham Al-Jabalabi, one of the founders of It’aam cuisine (meaning “food” in Arabic) in Al-Thawra, Khartoum, the concept of tekkeyahs, deeply rooted in Sudanese culture, began to spread further following the outbreak of war between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and RSF forces in April 2023.

In besieged neighborhoods where access to markets and shops became difficult, this tradition of generosity and solidarity took on greater importance.

“Each family shared their food supplies and, as the fighting continued and savings were depleted, the tekkeyahs relied on donations and contributions,” he says.

“We started It’aam in May 2023, a month after the outbreak of war, to provide meals to almost 215 families caught in the crossfire between the army and the RSF.”

Due to shortage of funds, 70 percent of the group’s kitchens serve only one meal a day.

“Other factors have also come into play, such as the interruption of water service and the increase in prices of wood used for fuel, along with a sharp increase in the cost of goods and food of up to 150 percent since the beginning of war,” adds Al-Jabalabi.

Hussein, one of the kitchen’s beneficiaries, says she had to resort to dividing the food she receives from It’aam into two portions, delaying the family’s breakfast and bringing forward dinner.

Outside Khartoum

The situation outside the capital is just as serious: communities face shortages of essential supplies and constant violence. Local organizations and volunteers are working tirelessly to provide support, but resources remain scarce.

“We supervise 13 kitchens that serve daily meals in shelters housing displaced people,” says Nuha Youssef, an emergency ward volunteer in Sennar state, South Sudan.

“But unfortunately, due to a lack of funding and harassment of volunteers by security forces, we are sometimes forced to work only on Fridays.”

Abuzar Osman, ERR coordinator for Darfur state, says there are around 90 community kitchens in the five states of Darfur.

Its service capacity varies depending on the population density of each area, starting from 250 people and reaching 2,200 people in the Zamzam internally displaced persons camp.

“We have recently opened the Sultan Tirab School kitchen in Nyala, which provides more than 700 meals daily to students and teachers, but the project faces significant challenges related to financing and ensuring the continuity of kitchen operations,” Add.

“We are also evacuating civilians from conflict zones and providing health, education, water and electricity services.”

According to Osman, security challenges are affecting the flow of goods and food in Al-Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, and shortages and rising prices of goods in markets across the region.

Unsafe roads, due to the presence of multiple armed groups, further threaten commercial convoys.

“We recently lost eight volunteers in one of Al-Fasher’s kitchens after a projectile hit the city, amidst the fierce battles taking place these days,” says Osman. The new arab.

“Despite this, the cuisine persists, sustained only by community efforts, in the absence of regional and international organizations.”

Fatma Elzahraa Badwy is an Egyptian journalist interested in investigative journalism, cultural affairs and women’s rights. She currently collaborates with Rose al-Yusuf magazine and writes for several independent platforms, including Al Manassa and Fekr Tany.

This article is published in collaboration with egab

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