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Sudan's local kitchens are stepping in to make up for the lack of international aid

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, HOST:

The War in Sudan has left millions of civilians hungry and displaced. And the United Nations says there are two big challenges to providing relief - a lack of access due to intense fighting across the country and not enough money for an effective humanitarian response. The U.N. says it needs roughly $2.7 billion, but only 12% of that budget has been funded. So in the meantime, local grassroots organizations have stepped in to fill the void.

MOHANAD EL BELAL: My name is Mohanad El Belal. I'm a British Sudanese national, and I'm the co-founder of Khartoum Aid Kitchen.

KURTZLEBEN: Back in March, El Belal called his cousin, Yaseen Abdallah, to see how he was doing. Abdallah had fled his home during the early months of the war, moving to a safer area in the neighboring city of Omdurman. Though his cousin had fled the fighting, El Belal says there was another threat. Severe hunger and malnutrition were creeping in.

EL BELAL: People had to look around, and they were realizing, OK, we still have some savings left. We can afford to eat, but they looked at their neighbor who didn't have any savings, and they said, instead of having all two meals, we'll have a meal and give the meal to our neighbor. And this was a community sharing sort of way of keeping people alive.

KURTZLEBEN: People soon began to run out of money, so they turned to small community kitchens, but then the kitchens couldn't keep up with the demand they were seeing.

EL BELAL: One of the ways that the kitchens were responding to this high demand was by watering down their stews to the point that they effectively just became flavored water.

KURTZLEBEN: El Belal knew that this wasn't solving the problem.

EL BELAL: It's not just a lack of calories. It's also the nutrition profile of the food. There's a significant lack of protein in diets because Sudanese diet, protein is gained from meat. And that's just become unaffordable for most people.

KURTZLEBEN: So he thought of a solution - peanut butter.

EL BELAL: We decided that the best way to compensate for this is adding peanut butter to our lentil stew. For every 10 kilograms of lentils, we would add 4 kilograms of peanut butter, increasing the calorie density of the stew by more than 100%.

KURTZLEBEN: The initial goal was to just feed 80 families in his cousin's neighborhood, so around 400 people. El Belal funded the operation himself. But as the threat of mass hunger and famine spread, he knew the operation could be expanded.

EL BELAL: As of June 13, we have 18 kitchens, 12 of them, which are directly run, and six of them, which are partner kitchens which we fund.

KURTZLEBEN: He teamed up with another Sudanese friend based in the United Kingdom to help raise money through GoFundMe, and they've collected over $300,000 for Khartoum Aid Kitchen. El Belal says that although he is heartened by the effort, he knows that it's just not enough.

EL BELAL: I'll say a lot of people that are using our kitchens are still hungry. But what we are trying to do is provide them with enough nutrition that they can avoid malnutrition.

KURTZLEBEN: He says the international community needs to step in.

EL BELAL: I think the world views what happens in Africa as an inevitability, that children are going to die regardless. I think if it was outside the African continent, there would be a lot more solidarity being shown to the Sudanese people. So what we've been trying to do with Khartoum Kitchen is to highlight individual cases to make people understand that these are normal people, just like anywhere else, with their dreams and hopes, and what's happening to them, they do not deserve it.

KURTZLEBEN: That was Mohanad El Belal. He is the co founder of Khartoum Aid Kitchen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.