Like thousands of others suffering the effects of a worsening drought and threatened by famine, Awadalla Bakheit and his family straggled across western Sudan seeking help.

Yet, like other refugees streaming into this regional capital, they may merely be given some food and money and shipped back to the countryside.The government is trying to discourage a large permanent camp in el-Obeid, which is proving to be an uphill battle.

"I walked four days to reach here. We're just waiting for the will of God and what the government will decide," said 35-year-old Bakheit at the Rukub camp for displaced persons 10 miles north of the city.

Weary-looking men, women and children cluster under the few trees, seeking shade. Tents are not provided, a tactic by the military government to prevent settlement.

Across Sudan, Africa's largest nation, two consecutive years of drought conditions have led to fears a serious famine may loom.

In the Kordofan region of which el-Obeid is the capital, nearly a third of the 3.5 million inhabitants have been affected.

Authorities in el-Obeid, about 200 miles southwest of Khartoum, have delcared the region a disaster area, but the central government refuses to officially acknowledge the crisis.

Famine has struck most of the country, affecting up to 7 million of its 25 million people, and much worse is expected within six months. Relief professionals say a million tons of food are needed to avert disaster.

The United States and other Western donors have condemned the government for refusing to acknowledge that an emergency exists, thus preventing the international relief operation needed to head off mass starvation.

Ahmed Omer, deputy director of the Rukub camp, said 9,000 people recently arrived from the nearby countryside. They will be sent packing in trucks, either back home or to areas where they can find work.