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Red Sea State Profile

 Red Sea State is located in the northeast of Sudan (latitude 16 to 22 North, longitude 35 to 37 East), with national borders to Egypt in the North, and Eritrea in the South. Within Sudan, the state borders Kassala State in the South and River Nile State in the West. With a land area of 218,887 km2 Red Sea State constitutes approximately 10% of the total area of Sudan and 63% of the Eastern region. Its two seaports – Port Sudan and Suakin – provide vital links to the rest of the world. Access to roads, railways and to the airport in Port Sudan, mean that the State is well connected to the rest of Sudan. Nonetheless, the internal infrastructure of the state is weak and movement is severely restricted during the rainy season.

The total population of the three Eastern states is calculated to stand at 3,746,000. A report commissioned by CBS in 2006 calculated that, of this sum, 746,617 people currently inhabit Red Sea State. The state is characterized by a very low population density in rural areas and the average population density for the state in its entirety, including the urban centres of Port Sudan, Suakin and Sinkat, is only around 3.3 persons per km2.

The population of Red Sea State is predominantly Beja, a nomenclature of tribes. The main tribal groups of the Beja, defined broadly, are the Hadandawa, Bishariyin, Amrar and Beni Amir, though the latter are at times considered separately. The Rashaida constitute another significant ethnic group in the state and are located around Port Sudan and along the coastal areas. Moreover, Red Sea State, and Port Sudan in particular, has a pronounced multi-ethnic dimension due to historical migration and more recent influxes of IDPs. People from Southern Sudan and the Nuba mountains form the core of the IDP population – driven to the area by war and poverty – while other migrants from the Northern Sudan and the River Nile states have primarily been attracted by economic opportunities that the ports and commerce provided.

The natural resource base of Red Sea State includes the fertile areas of Tokar and Arbaat, natural pasture and grazing land, and marine resources distributed along the coastline. Livestock and wild life are mostly concentrated on the inland plains, mountains and forest areas. Gold, oil and various mineral resources also exist in the state. Considered against this backdrop of natural and potential resources the population of Red Sea State is comparatively small.

State Economy

The economy of the state can be divided into rural and urban economies exhibiting very different traits, yet inextricably linked in their trajectories. The rural economy is land-based with core activities being primarily pastoral and agro-pastoral. Petty trading, the provision of casual labour and fishing also provide sections of the population with an important means of economic sustenance. The livestock population of Red Sea State is estimated to stand at around 1.3 million animals and many authors have argued that Red Sea State could be made self-sufficient, with regard to food supplies, if due care was paid to water harvesting, production of food crops and subsistence mechanisms. According to Abdel Ati (2006) around 55% of the state area (118,000 km² or 24.3 million feddans) can be classified as natural grazing area. It is this land upon which agro-pastoral techniques of animal husbandry are totally dependent. The coastal plains that encompass the majority of the study area also have relatively good plant cover. However, the fertility of this area varies significantly according to seasonal rainfall and levels of groundwater salination.

Geography and Physical Environment

The main landscape features of Red Sea State are a) a narrow coastal plain that are 20 to 40km wide; b) a line of hills running parallel to the coast, rising in altitude to 1500m above sea level; and c) a plateau around 1000m above sea level, with isolated hills scattered and separated by shallow wadis and khors flowing westwards towards the Nile. There is considerable climatic variation both within and between these regions and the cultivable area is very limited, centering upon a few seasonal valleys and the coastal strip. Close to 44% of the state is desert and the much of the rest is comprised of semi-arid land. Temperatures in the State are fairly high with the mean annual temperature ranging from 28° to 32° C. The ottest months of the year are June and July (with an average temperature of 36° C) while the coldest months are those of January and February (which average 26° C.

In their report on the climate of Red Sea State, Babiker and Pantuliano (2006) further documented high levels of variation in the quantity and distribution of rainfall. Nonetheless, two main seasonal trends can be identified. The first pertains to the coastal region while the latter concerns the interior hilly area. The coastal plains receive most rainfall in the winter period from November to January. This pattern is supplemented by heavy dew that lasts until the end of April. Winter rains in this area are caused by dry winds that transport water vapor across the Red Sea, to the coast. In contrast to this, the hills of the interior receive rainfall earlier in the year, between July and August, as a result of the northerly movement of the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). This is the same meteorological system that causes summer rains throughout the Sudan.

Precipitation in the hills and on the coast can vary significantly from year to year both in terms of spatial distribution and quantity. This variation increases as we move towards the North. Furthermore, the volcanic rocks and basement complex of the region do not provide good aquifers, limiting the access to and quality of ground water. The only source of fresh water in the state is provided by the surface run-off from khors and wadis. Consequently, Red Sea State frequently suffers from an extremely high water deficit on both monthly and annual scales. The availability of water supply remains the paramount constraint on livelihoods and migration patterns in rural areas.

RSS Sources of the Surface Water per Locality


Khors and Wadis

Average annual surface water (m3)

Red Sea



Khor Saloom


Wadi Amoor



Khor Arab









Khor Baraka






Khor Gob



Source: RSS Water Sources, Salah Bashier Musa, Khartoum University, 1995 and State Strategic Plan (2007)

  The agricultural region of Red Sea State consists, primarily, of wadi and khor land such as Khor Arbaat and Khor Baraka feeding the state’s two agricultural schemes of Arbaat and Tokar. Khor Arbaat is particularly important to the region as it also provides Port Sudan with the majority of its water supply. According to the State Strategic Plan 2007-2009, arable land in Red Sea State is currently estimated to stand at 744,325 feddans. More than half this land, 406,000 feddans, lies in the area of the Tokar Delta, of which only around 15% is currently irrigated and actively cultivated. Of the Arbaat area, 2,400 feddans are currently irrigated.

 Livelihood and Socio-economic setting


Sudan Household Health Survey

Under-five mortality rate (per 1000)


Underweight (-2 SD, -3 SD)

32.4%, 10.9%

Stunting (-2 SD, -3 SD)

31.1%, 14.1%

Wasting (-2 SD, -3 SD)

15.1%, 4.7%

Children between the age of 12 and 23 months who have received all vaccinations (DPT1-3, OPV-1-3, BCG and measles)


Use of improved source of drinking water


Mean time to source of drinking water inc. return (minutes)


Sanitary means of excreta disposal


Children of primary school age attending first grade. (Attending primary or secondary school.)

48% (69.5%)

Primary School Net Attendance ratio (enrollment percentage, female : male)

71.4 : 67.4

Primary School Completion Rate


Secondary school age children attending secondary school or higher institutions


Child births registered


Number of women married before the age of 15


Women aged 15-49 who gave birth in the past two years without any antenatal care


Doctor, Nurse or Auxiliary Nurse assisting delivery


Maternal Mortality (per 100,000)


 Source: 2006 Household Health Survey

The port system continues to be the main source of livelihood for many urban laborers. The Port Sudan Sea Corporation and Bashaer Petrol Port are extremely important in this regard. In conjunction with the Sudan Duty Free Zones and the Aryaab Gold Mines these enterprises constitute the backbone of the state economy. Nonetheless, much of the port system and the duty free zone are now administered by Federal authorities. Together with the development of mechanized port-processing facilities, this has led to a dramatic loss in urban employment opportunities. 

According to the Director of the Livestock Department, Red Sea State has 16% of the livestock wealth of Sudan (see Table (3) for state geographic distribution). However, the state lacks an updated and reliable livestock census. Nevertheless, this resource base warrants special attention due both to its significant size and its position as the traditional foundation of rural livelihoods. 

Number of Livestock by type and Area of concentration


Number of animals




South Tokar, Port Sudan and Derudeb



Central and western parts of the state



Derudeb, Haya, Suakin and other parts of the State



Rural Port Sudan, Khor Arab towards the Gash area.

Source: SMoA- Livestock Department

The marine system of Red Sea State harbors considerable fishing potential. Nevertheless, the Deputy Director of the State Department for Fisheries notes that the contribution of this sector to the state economy is relatively small. This department estimates that traditional methods yield 600-1000 tons of fish per year and that commercial fishing yields a further 900-1500 tons. Of this sum, it calculates that 700-1600 tons of fish are exported to Egypt each year.

According to the annual crop assessment, conducted in January 2008, the average area cultivated in Red Sea State as a whole was around 126,000 feddans. This figure is significantly less than the estimated total cultivable area of the state land – which stands at around 337,000-350,000 feddans.  

 The main crops being cultivated are sorghum and millet. Cultivated areas are expected to yield 10,000 metric tons of food for consumption in 2008. However, as stated, this is amount is far outstripped by the nutritional demands of the state’s population and livestock. According to the Food Security Committee the combined nutritional needs, for both humans and livestock in Red Sea State, amount to some 130,000 tons. Between January and March 2008 it was calculated that an additional 2019 tons of food aid would be distributed to 63,263 households by aid agencies. This figure encompasses almost all the inhabitants of rural Red Sea State (TANGO, 2005). Given that as much as two-thirds of the cultivable land in Red Sea State remains under-used in this regard, there seems to be considerable potential for the further development of this area.


Last Updated ( Thursday, 25 November 2010 )