The United States has been the largest donor of humanitarian assistance to Sudan and South Sudan for more than a quarter century.  The relationship was cemented in the early 1980s, after Sudan became one of only three Arab League states to support the Camp David accords between Egypt and Israel. 

In 1988—a year that saw a massive famine in Bahr al Ghazal, floods in Khartoum and locusts in Darfur—USAID spearheaded the emergency response and helped create Operation Lifeline Sudan, a negotiated system that allowed humanitarian assistance to reach a vast, previously impenetrable part of the war-affected south.

By the late 1980s, Khartoum was home to the largest USAID mission in sub-Saharan Africa. USAID also had a presence in Juba after building an office and residential compound at Jebel Kujur in the early 1980s. 

In 1998, at the urging of Congress, the White House changed policy to allow the United States to provide development assistance to opposition-held areas alongside humanitarian aid countrywide. Rehabilitation activities sought to promote participatory democracy and good governance while reducing reliance on relief in opposition-held parts of southern Sudan. Grants were targeted to promote grassroots civil society, and trainings were held to increase the capacity of county authorities in finance, governance and accountability.

A modest $3 million to $4 million annual development assistance program jumped to $11 million in 2001, when then-USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios determined to support basic education and agricultural recovery in stable areas of the South as a way to prepare for peace. President Bush appointed Natsios as Special Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan in May 2001 and former Senator John Danforth as Special Envoy for Peace in September 2001. That year, USAID established the Sudan Task Force to support peace and humanitarian efforts, including the drafting and implementation of Danforth’s “four tests,” which measured the warring parties’ commitment to peace.

In July 2001, Natsios negotiated with the government and Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement to allow one relief flight to bring assistance to the Nuba Mountains, a largely inaccessible area where drought and war threatened a famine. The parties agreed and 8 tons of wheat were delivered to Kauda on Aug. 30. The United States then worked with the parties to establish a 30-day military stand-down, which allowed the United Nations to deliver an additional 2,000 tons of food to the area. With support from the U.S. and Swiss Governments, a ceasefire for the Nuba Mountains was signed in January 2002, followed by the Machakos Protocol in July 2002, which established the premise of “one country, two systems.”  USAID observers attended the Machakos negotiations, as well as the next round, in Naivasha, Kenya.

Since 2001, the United States, alongside Norway and the United Kingdom, has led international efforts to increase humanitarian access to Sudan, protect civilians, establish and monitor a ceasefire, and reinvigorate the Kenya-led peace negotiations. USAID invested in reconstruction programs—democracy and governance, education, health and economic recovery—that support a sustainable peace and rely on the broad participation of the Sudanese people.

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in Nairobi on January 9, 2005 ended Sudan's civil war and ushered in a new era of American assistance in Sudan.  The country became a U.S. priority in Africa, and among the highest in the world. The U.S. Government provided assistance that:

  • Helped transform the Government of Southern Sudan from a concept in the CPA to a functioning regional government.
  • Provided a million people with access to clean water.
  • Helped to increase children’s enrollment in schools from 20 percent in 2005 to 68 percent in 2010.

To jumpstart post-war economic opportunities, USAID has established tools such as microfinance institutions. USAID support repaired and improved hundreds of miles of roads and built bridges and electric power stations to boost economic growth, trade and security. The United States also provided assistance that was essential to hold the January 2011 referendum on self-determination for southern Sudan.

South Sudan became an independent nation on July 9, 2011. Since conflict erupted in December 2013, USAID increased its humanitarian assistance and adjusted its development portfolio to best help meet the needs of the people of South Sudan in the current context.