Northeast African state. On the occasion of a census carried out in 1993, the population of the Republic of Sudan amounted to 26 million residents: after that date no other census surveys were held due to the persistence of the civil war. According to an evaluation by the United Nations, in 2006 the population was equal to 41,236,000 residents, with a density of 16.4 residents / km 2, a figure that is scarcely significant as half of the population lives on about 15 % of the territory, and the northern part of the country – one third of the territory – is sparsely populated. The urban population (40 % in 2004) is largely concentrated in the metropolitan area of the capital Khartoum, including 2 million refugees from the war-torn southern regions, and from drought-stricken western and eastern regions. In the period 2000-2005 the rate of population growth was of ‘ 1.9 % per annum and in 2005 the 39 % of the population was below the age of 15 years. Among the ethnic groups the most consistent are Arabs, Nubians, Beja and Fur (all northerners and Muslims), Dinka, Nuer, Shilluk and Nuba (southern Nilotic peoples). More than half of the residents are Muslims, mainly based in the North; Christians, estimated to be between 4 % and 10 % live for the most part in the South and in Khartoum, while at least a third of Sudanese are animists or followers of traditional religions.
The Sudan is one of the poorest regions in the world, as evidenced by the very low value of the United Nations Human Development Index (in 2004 life expectancy at birth was 56.5 years, the adult literacy rate at 60.9 %, the annual per capita income of 1949 dollars). After independence (1956), the country was tormented for a long time by a civil war that diverted huge resources towards military uses. In the period 1990-2004, the World Health Organization estimated there were only 16 doctors per 100,000 residents. Furthermore, a large part of the population does not have access to hygienically safe water and sanitation. Malnutrition is widespread outside the central corridor of the Nile, due to recurrent droughts and the constant displacements that the residents have been forced to by the war. At the end of 2004 it was estimated that in the south of the country about 4 million people had been forced to leave their homes, while about 2 million residents had lost their lives in the course of two decades of war. A similar situation occurred in the battered western region of Dārfūr, in which there were 1.6 million refugees and 70,000 died following an ethnic cleansing campaign against non-Arab groups initiated in 2003 by quasi-government Arab militias.
The Sudan is rich in natural resources, and potentially a large agricultural producer, but decades of internal conflicts and poor management of the economy have held back development and widened the gap between North and South, and between urban and rural areas. Rural areas and southern regions lack infrastructure and are in a state of extreme poverty, aggravated by drought and famine. Despite recent efforts by the Sudanese government to revive the economy by adopting macroeconomic reforms and investing in infrastructure, the nation still faces serious problems, including widespread corruption. Towards the end of the nineties of the 20th century. the Sudan began to exploit oil fields discovered at the beginning of the Eighties, but remained unused due to the climate of instability that prevailed in the country. In 1991 the Sudan started exporting crude oil, and in that year it recorded a surplus in the trade balance for the first time. Production continued to grow in the following years (16.2 million tonnes in 2005), making up more than 80 % of export earnings. In the period 1995-2004, the economy grew on average by 6.2 % per year and, based on 2005 estimates,the contribution to the gross domestic product of the various sectors of economic activity was divided as follows: agriculture 29.1 %, industry 29.4 %, services 36.1%. Agriculture remains the most important sector of the Sudanese economy, employing about two thirds of the workforce. Cereals (mainly sorghum) and livestock (camels, cattle, goats and sheep) form the backbone of the traditional economy; Sudan also produces significant quantities of gum arabic, millet, peanuts, sesame and sugar cane. At the time of British rule, a challenging irrigation project was developed in the Gezira region, which became an important cotton production and export area. More recently, dams and irrigation projects have been located in Kusti, Gedaref and Kassalā. In the early 21° sec. the most important agricultural products exported from the Sudan were sesame and cattle. In addition to oil, the mining endowment of the Sudan includes gold (the most profitable mining export after oil), asbestos, chromite, copper, diamonds, mica, silver, tungsten, uranium, zinc and iron ores. The industrial apparatus is of modest consistency, despite recent investments and the establishment of tax concessions for some industrial areas intended for export. The main manufacturing industries are the cane sugar refining industry, partly exported, and the textile industries. The tertiary sector is underdeveloped. Tourism has considerable potential, but is hampered by the inadequacy of transport and hotel infrastructure, as well as by the situation of insecurity.