The Physical Setting
“Bilad al Sudan” was the name given by medieval Muslims to the belt of African territory south of the Sahara Desert and extending from the Atlantic to the Ethiopian plateau. In its more modern restricted sense, however, ‘the Sudan’ means the Republic of the Sudan, formerly the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium. It covers nearly 1 million square kilometers, an area seven times the size of California and five times the size of Texas, making it the largest single country in Africa. Apart from a narrow plain along the Red Sea, the Sudan is entirely land-locked, sharing boundaries with Egypt and Libya to the north, Ethiopia and Eritrea to the east, South Sudan and Central Africa to the south and southwest, and the Republic of Chad to the west.
The Sudan lies wholly within the tropics, and with the exception of the ‘Sudd’ region in the south and some hilly districts towards its western and eastern extremities, constitutes one vast plain. The extreme north is Saharan in its heat and aridity, but below this, a central belt (from about latitudes 18 degrees to about 12 degrees north) contains some of the richest agricultural and grazing land in the country, including the ‘Gezira’ island between the White and the Blue Niles, traditionally the granary of the Sudan.
To the south of this belt, the rich grasslands are replaced by thickly forested and intensely humid lands and woods. This climatic diversity enriches the southern region with a variegated flora and fauna. All in all, roughly 20 percent of the land is arable, accounting for 100 million acres, of which only one-fifth is under active cultivation, and that mainly in the northern region.