Many people have heard of Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, but not many know that Omdurman, which lies just across the Nile river, is Sudan’s largest city or that due north also lies Bahri, a city also known as Khartoum North.
Together, the three cities: Khartoum, Bahri and Omdurman, are home to nearly 7 million people.
Today these cities are bustling hives of activity with big ambitions. There are cultural centres, museums and universities. Among them is the Sudan University of Science and Technology with over 75000 students, many of them foreigners. It is a respected place of learning with programming competitions, events in technology related subjects and even courses in forestry and agriculture.
In fact, a resident of one of these cities is likely to live a life that has much in common with how people live in the rest of the world. 77% of all Sudanese people own a mobile phone and 30% have access to the internet at home or on their phones.
Despite the current ambition, Sudan has been through many struggles in its recent history. A British colony until 1956, the country came under military rule soon after independence and that was followed by a one-party government that did not address the development needs of the country.
A conflict with South Sudan and Chad grew in the 1980s to become a fully fledged civil war. Over the years, this civil war displaced millions of people, leaving many destitute and starving, with hundreds of thousands tortured, raped or killed.
South Sudan became an independent country in 2011 but points of differences remain and the conflict continues – especially in Darfur, a region the size of France and a place that remains in a state of humanitarian emergency.
Today, there are refugee camps in several countries, including in Chad, Ethiopia, Egypt and even within Sudan for IDPs (internally displaced persons). The UNHCR says that 6.9 million people are still in need of humanitarian assistance in Sudan.
The world has the capacity to respond and help solve this humanitarian disaster, but public awareness of this conflict remains low. Until that changes, it looks like this crisis will continue.