(June 2004) The costs of conflict have weighed heavily on the people of Sudan, a country two and a half times the area of neighboring Egypt but with roughly half the number of people. The recent repression and killings of African villagers in the western region of Darfur by government forces and Arab militias have stalled peace hopes in a country where war had already displaced whole communities, ravaged basic services, and spurred stark inequalities — between women and men, refugees and residents, states and regions.

Two decades of civil war between the country’s Arab Muslim leaders and the non-Muslim south had cost the country at least 2 million lives since 1983 and uprooted roughly 5 million people before new tensions boiled over in the Muslim region of Darfur in early 2003. The conflict erupted when militias, known as Janjaweed, moved to quell a rebellion by residents against Arab domination. The Darfur conflict, marked by killings, lootings, and rapes, has created what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

In this country of 38 million people, where life expectancy is a mere 56 years, malaria is the biggest killer, affecting 24 percent to 36 percent of the population, according to the World Bank. Basic human needs are often unmet, both in the war-torn areas of the west and the south and in communities where displaced people exist in camps.

In areas of civil conflict, the options and resources available to displaced women often differ greatly from those of men. In Sudan, a country that is only 27 percent urban, many of the men may be combatants or in positions of authority but displaced women live in overcrowded camps that lack adequate food, safe drinking water, and health services.

A lack of reproductive care for these uprooted women has led to major concerns over maternal deaths. Sudan’s maternal mortality ratio — the number of deaths for every 100,000 live births — is 1,500. The number far exceeds that of Libya (120) and Egypt (170), two of the nine countries with which Sudan shares borders.

Health care and opportunities for children are also lacking. According to UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2004, the annual number of deaths of children under age 1 for every 1,000 live births is 64 in Sudan, compared with 16 in Libya and 35 in Egypt. Literacy rates are also low and show wide disparities between women and men. The adult literacy rate is 69 percent for men but only 46 percent for women.


Indicator Data
Population Mid-2003
Population 2025 (projected)
Population 2050 (projected)
Total Fertility Rate (avg. no. of children born to a woman during her lifetime)
Population Under Age 15 (%)
Population Over Age 65 (%)
Life Expectancy at Birth, Both Sexes (years)
Life Expectancy at Birth, Males (years)
Life Expectancy at Birth, Females (years)
Women Ages 15-49, 2020 (projected)
Births Attended by Skilled Personnel (%)
Maternal Deaths per 100,000 Live Births

Sources: Carl Haub, 2003 World Population Data Sheet (Washington, DC: PRB, 2003); and Justine Sass and Lori Ashford, Women of Our World 2002 (Washington, DC: PRB, 2002). All these data can be found in PRB’s DataFinder.

Yvette Collymore is a senior editor at PRB.


United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), The State of the World’s Children 2004 (New York: UNICEF, 2003).

U.S. Committee for Refugees, World Refugee Survey 2004: Sudan, accessed online at www.refugees.org/wrs04/country_updates/africa/sudan.html, June 21, 2004.

World Bank, Sudan: Stabilization and Reconstruction (Country Economic Memorandum), accessed online at www-wds.worldbank.org/servlet/WDS_IBank_Servlet, on June 21, 2004.

World Health Organization (WHO), “Health Aspects of the Humanitarian Crisis in the Greater Darfur Region of Sudan”, accessed online at www.who.int/features/2004/darfur/en/index.html, on June 21, 2004.