A famine is developing in Sudan as devastating as that which swept East Africa in 1984, but relief efforts are being hampered by the Sudanese government's obstruction of aid workers and its support for Iraq, according to the State Department.

U.S. and U.N. relief workers predict "hundreds of thousands, perhaps one million" people could die of starvation if emergency action is not taken, but sources say the Bush administration, although anxious to help, is wary of sending a significant food package because of fears the fundamentalist Islamic government in Khartoum may prevent it from reaching the non-Moslems in the south where aid is needed most.

Senior officials say the Moslem north has deliberately blocked supplies to the south, where previous famines have hit hardest and where the government has been at civil war with various insurgent groups nearly since Sudan gained independence in 1956.

Trains and barges have been held up, surplus food stocks exported overseas and the Sudanese Air Force has even bombed relief sites, the officials said.

"Sometimes . . . we are looking at the Khmer Rouge of Africa in dealing with {the Sudanese} government," said a senior U.S. government relief worker who has just returned from Sudan.

Sudanese Prime Minister Omar Hassan Bashir in public comments has refused to acknowledge the pending disaster, yet his finance minister visited Washington recently to ask for 1 million metric tons of grain -- worth about $150 million -- following the nationwide failure of this year's crop after insufficient rainfall.

A third of the grain would be for emergency relief and the rest for long-term food aid.

But the finance minister got a cool reception here.

"We told him that we would like to be as helpful as possible," said one official, "but . . . we want a commitment from the Sudan government that they will allow the grain to be distributed. There is no point giving them 500,000 tons of grain if they . . . block the nongovernmental organizations who deliver it."

The Sudanese government's actions, including support of Iraq, have so antagonized donor governments, including those from the European Community and the Middle East, that many have pulled their relief organizations out of the country.

The United States could provide as much as one-third of the food needed, said an official, but other donor governments would have to come up with the rest.

"There are other countries in need: Angola, Liberia, Namibia," said an official here. "The pie is only so big. We can't do it alone."

Representatives of the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) and U.S. Ambassador to Sudan James R. Cheek will meet to decide how much, if any, food should go to Sudan.

Private relief and government sources here say the granting of aid is complicated by the Sudan government's support of Iraq.

Until the Persian Gulf crisis, Sudan received substantial military aid from Iraq. Since Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait, Sudan has backed Iraq, although it has said it will abide by U.N. sanctions.

Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS), a U.N. relief effort established after the famine and war-induced deaths of 250,000 people in 1988, is said to be on the verge of collapse. OLS sent 100,000 tons of food to Sudan last year, helping stave off calamity.

"There will be a reluctance by the donor countries to put forward aid to a country whose government is avidly supporting the foe," said a senior relief worker in New York.

If more donors snub Sudan, relief organizations may have to turn to the general public in an effort similar to that mounted during the Ethiopian famine of 1984, when fund-raising efforts raised millions, relief workers said.

Sudan's support for Iraq is taking its toll on Capitol Hill. "I can't sit here and say we {Congress} will deny innocent people food, but I can say it will be a damn sight more difficult persuading the general public to provide aid for these people," said Rep. Tony P. Hall (D-Ohio), chairman of the House Select Committee on Hunger.

The impending drought this year differs from Sudan's two most recent famines as it will affect all of the country's 24.5 million people, not just those in the south.

A senior State Department official said the Bush adminstration is fully aware of the crisis but needs the cooperation of the Sudanese government in order to do anything.

"We can't invade the country . . . to feed its people," the official said.