About Sudan


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Adult Literacy


Life expectancy at Birth (years)


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Incidence of Poverty

Sudan: The Land and the People

 As part of its income generating projects, UNDP has purchased small boats to fishermen in Port Sudan (Photo: UNDP Sudan)

Sudan is the third largest country in Africa with a total area of 1,882,000km2 and 42.8 million inhabitants. The country is sparsely populated and shares international borders with Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Chad, and Libya. The River Nile traverses the country from south to north providing a crucial water source, while the Red Sea washes close to 900km of the eastern coast, making Sudan a sea bridge between Africa and the Middle East.

Sudan is both an African and Arab country, with Arabic being the most widely spoken language. Over 97% of the population are Sunni Muslims with a small Christian minority.

The 2019 revolution, predominantly led by women and youth, has presented the people of Sudan with the unique opportunity to transform their nation. In so doing, they will need to address the multiple development challenges Sudan faces, with its fragile environment (with drought and desertification reflected in vulnerability to climate change), limited basic services, and history of exclusionary development and conflict.

History and Government

Sudan has a decentralized governance structure with three levels: Federal Government, State Governments, and Localities. Since gaining independence on 1 January 1956, Sudan has alternated between democratic and authoritarian leadership. During this time, Sudan experienced only 11 years of relative peace, between 1972 and 1983.

From 1989 to 2019, former President Omar al-Bashir ruled as President, a period which included the secession of the Republic of South Sudan in July 2011, after a lengthy internal conflict, until his removal during the 2019 revolution.

Following the revolution, Sudan has embarked on a transition to peace and democracy under a civilian-led Transitional Government and Cabinet, headed by a civilian Prime Minister, and a collective civilian/military Head of State, the Sovereignty Council.

Sudan’s modern history is also marked by the 2003 eruption of conflict in Darfur. Several agreements made inroads to peace, alongside the 2007 deployment of the joint African Union and United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID). Working to end this conflict, and other tensions across Sudan, the new Government is progressing towards what is hoped will be lasting peace.

A milestone in this transition was the Juba Peace Agreement, signed in October 2020 by the Transitional Government and the leaders of a number of armed groups. As part of the Agreement, commitments were made on power and wealth sharing, the integration of forces into official ranks, political representation, economic rights and investment, and support for the return of displaced peoples. Towards this end, the Transitional Government is continuing its efforts to [TB1] secure comprehensive peace throughout Sudan.

After almost 13 years, 2021 will witness the departure of UNAMID and the arrival of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS). Headquartered in Khartoum, UNITAMS will work closely with the Transitional Government and the people of Sudan in support of the transition, alongside other United Nations entities.

Sudan’s Economy: Opportunities and Challenges

Sudan is rich in arable land, natural resources, a young workforce, and agricultural opportunities, however, the secession of the oil-rich South in 2011 initiated a declining economic trend. IMF figures indicate that GDP halved between 2011 and 2019. The 75% decline in oil income resulted in both a trade and fiscal deficit which led to a substantial devaluation of the currency and rising inflation.

Sudan’s economy has been in recession since 2018, with a decline experienced across all the components of GDP. Per capita GDP declined from USD1,125 in 2017 to USD780 in 2019, with real GDP estimated to have shrunk by 8.2% in 2020 due to the combined impact of COVID-19, natural disasters including floods, and intermittent shortages of key commodities like fuel. Poverty has risen as a result and, exacerbated by COVID-19, there is general consensus among observers that this is now widespread.

In response to the economic concerns of the population, the Transitional Government is moving ahead with significant economic transformation, prioritising harnessing the country’s natural wealth to fund development, addressing inflation and parallel foreign currency exchange rates, and tackling historic economic distortions, notably subsidies on fossil fuels.

In support of these aims, in September 2020 the Transitional Government agreed to an IMF-managed programme that foresees the removal of fuel subsidies, the unification and liberalization of the foreign exchange rate, and increased revenue mobilization efforts to reduce the fiscal deficit and create conditions for the increased allocation of funds to priority sectors, including a joint Transitional Government/World Bank/WFP social protection programme.

Sudan’s exports are dominated by gold, sesame seed, livestock, crude oil and groundnuts, and  accounted for 82% of all exports in 2019. Historically, agriculture has remained the main source of income and employment in Sudan, employing or providing livelihoods for more than 60% of the population.

However, neglect of traditional smallholder agriculture and nomadic animal husbandry saw the sector’s share of GDP dip in recent years years. This trend, combined with the exodus from the conflict- or poverty-affected areas of the country, has contributed to a high rate of unorganized urbanization in and around the larger cities.

Moreover, despite its massive agricultural potential, Sudan struggles to meet its own staple food needs and has seen its natural resources significantly affected by climate change, deforestation, soil desiccation and diminishing soil fertility and water tables.

Finally, Sudan’s rich endowment of natural resources, including natural gas, gold, silver, chromite, manganese, gypsum, mica, zinc, iron, lead, uranium, copper, kaolin, cobalt, granite, nickel, tin, and aluminum offer significant economic potential. However, these resources have yet to be fully realized.

Human Development Context

Sudan is currently ranked 170 out of 189 countries in the Human Development Index (2019) of the 2020 UNDP Human Development Report.

There are more than 1.8 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), and a further one million refugees or asylum seekers across various states, many with significant humanitarian and protection needs.

Access to electricity is divided along urban/rural lines, with the Transitional Government estimating that 60% of the population still lack access. Around 80% of the population use biomass with LPG use generally limited to urban areas. The lack of access to modern energy services and subsequent energy poverty continues to be an issue.

Overall economic growth, which has been limited since the secession of South Sudan in 2011, has not translated into equivalent human development improvements and poverty reduction. While Sudan saw a 142.9% increase in gross national income per capita between 1990 and 2019, the value of the HDI increased only 54.1%.

Progress on social and legislative reform has been substantive since the establishment of the new Transitional Government.  Achievements thus far include outlawing female genital mutilation (FGM), committing to 40% representation of women in Sudan’s new Parliament, repealing restrictive ‘Public Order Laws’, improving government budget transparency, and systematically moving State-owned enterprises under the control of the Ministry of Finance.

Reflecting the role of women in the 2019 revolution, and a recent history of legislative and social marginalization, many of these reforms are taking place in the context of improvements in women’s rights and participation in political and other spheres.

In 2020, Sudan’s National Action Plan for the Implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security was adopted. Both 2019’s Draft Constitutional Declaration and the Juba Peace Agreement make commitments to gender equality and women’s empowerment, nonetheless challenges and gaps remain in both realizing the commitments made and in ensuring improvements for women’s rights are extended nationwide.

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Finally, Sudan faces challenges in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Nevertheless, utilizing the momentum of the 2019 revolution, the people of the new Sudan have a uniqueopportunity to change this trajectory, by adopting bold policies that reverse exclusionary development, and ensure equality for all.


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