Breaking the Silence: Strategies for Drawing Attention to Sudan’s Forgotten Crisis

Melissa Fleming
5 min readApr 17, 2024


Ala Kheir. Every month, thousands of Sudanese people flee to nearby countries like South Sudan and Chad, forgotten and voiceless on an incredibly challenging journey, and nobody knows when it will end.

April 15 marked a full year since a devastating conflict returned with full force to Sudan. The violence and related humanitarian catastrophe have made it one of the UN’s biggest crises of concern across the globe. Yet the world is looking the other way.

Our eyes are focused on escalating tensions in the Middle East. As worrying as they are, other urgent crises are being pushed out of the headlines. We are forgetting about the people of Sudan.

Sudan is now on track to become the world’s worst hunger crisis, amid urgent warnings of an imminent famine. Meanwhile one UN observer recently described the combination of hunger, disease and widespread human rights abuses as “the stuff of nightmares.”

The indiscriminate killing, injuring and terrorizing of civilians could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Aid convoys are being targeted, while humanitarian staff and their warehouses have been attacked. Women and girls are exposed to rampant sexual violence.

One year on, more than 8 million have been displaced — 1.8 million have fled to neighbouring countries — and around 25 million people, or half of Sudan’s population, are in need of lifesaving assistance.

Yet despite millions of Sudanese facing one of the worst humanitarian disasters in living memory, and fresh donor pledges to alleviate suffering, the world’s attention is focused elsewhere. In moments like these, us UN communicators face a difficult challenge.

We must find ways of communicating strategically to bring attention back to forgotten crises with advocacy that raises the alarm, gets people to care, and ultimately eases the dire situation for those on the ground.

So how do we do that when audiences are so overwhelmed by all the desperate and competing humanitarian needs across the world?

For many years I’ve been studying the social psychology around why people turn off when the needs of others become too big. This is known as psychic numbing. The term, coined by US psychologist Paul Slovic, refers to the sad reality that people feel more apathetic towards a tragedy as the number of victims increases.

After all, it would be easy to become overwhelmed. With multiple conflicts, climate change, hunger — our world is battling multiple grave crises on many fronts. All this doom and gloom is prompting many to switch off.

For us UN communicators, that means jumping from one burning issue to the next. That’s why it’s vital we always keep in mind a strategic vision — our roadmap for communicating.

At the United Nations, our strategy is born of asking ourselves some fundamental questions: What do we want to change, and why? Who are our allies in making that change? And, just as importantly, what are the obstacles we face?

We know why we communicate at the UN: to build a better world. Our allies in making that change are the great majority of people on earth: All those who strive for peace, dignity, and equality on a healthy planet.

Others, though, remain invested in the status quo, or want to reshape the world for their own gain. Unfortunately for us, those forces have some extremely powerful tools at their disposal and can place huge obstacles in our path.

We see these actors exploiting media and digital landscapes to pump our public sphere with false information. We see them deliberately derailing meaningful debate, polarizing communities, and eroding trust in institutions across the globe.

It is into this maelstrom that we must communicate — and in such a way that not only educates, but that drives effective action.

Life would be easier if we could just put out the facts and trust people to spontaneously do the right thing. After all, facts are one of the United Nations strongest assets. We have the statistics of global suffering at our fingertips — data from all corners of the world that no other body has the capacity to measure.

But here’s the thing. The facts aren’t enough. Give people the bare, dry facts, and they won’t shed a tear, or lift a finger. No press release alone is going to shift the dial. We need something more.

Over time, I’ve come up with a formula for communicating. I call it “The 3 ‘W’s”: What? Why should I care? What now?

What we communicate gives people the information, but it’s how we communicate that gives our target audiences a reason to care, and it’s the solutions we offer that move people to act. So, our challenge is quite simple — in theory at least — we inform our audiences, move them to care, and inspire them to act.

We are clear-eyed, though, about how difficult this is. Today we operate in an environment so polluted with hate, mis- and disinformation that many people are losing faith in institutions and growing suspicious of each other. Trust is an increasingly rare commodity.

We are in the midst of an unprecedented and sustained assault on facts that UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has dubbed the “war on science.” Anyone battling to share public information is under attack — scientists, the media, and institutions, including the UN.

We are not sitting idly by. We’re working to get smarter, more agile, and savvier than those working to undermine progress. We’ve redoubled our efforts to reach people with the facts, get them to care, and move them to act.

Happily, we have incredibly powerful communications tools at our fingertips. Our digital age has handed us the means to instantly reach billions of people. It falls to us to do so wisely and strategically, following our roadmap for change, to end the world’s silence and inaction in the face of mass suffering in Sudan and elsewhere.



Melissa Fleming

Chief Communicator #UnitedNations promoting a peaceful, sustainable, just & humane world. Author: A Hope More Powerful than the Sea. Podcast: Awake at Night.