The concept of the 'relief-to-development continuum' has been the subject of renewed interest in recent years. Concerned by the rise in relief budgets over the past decade and the absolute fall in development aid resources, support has been growing for the concept of developmental relief. In the context of complex political emergencies, it has been argued further that as effective development aid can reduce vulnerability to the impact of natural hazards, so it might also be used to contribute to a process of conflict prevention. In this way, the concept of the relief-development continuum has become entwined with broader discussions about the contribution of official development assistance management. Drawing on a Review of Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS), this paper cautions against uncritical application of the concept of the continuum in complex political emergencies and rehabilitation in particular, in the current Sudanese context. It argues that in order to move legitimately from relief aid programming to development aid programming, three fundamental conditions must be in place: first, a minimum level of security, respect for human rights and humanitarian access. Second, empirical evidence from the field needs to demonstrate that the emergency is over. Finally, moving from relief to development aid programming is contingent on donor governments accepting the legitimacy of national governmental structures and of the rebel movements. In other words, for donor governments, moving along the continuum is in significant part determined by foreign policy considerations, not only technical ones. Consideration needs to be given to the actual and perceived legitimation of the different movements that a move to rehabilitation might be seen to imply. The paper argues that none of these conditions had been satisfied in Sudan by mid-1997. Instead of a process of normalisation paving the way to long-term development, the current situation in Sudan is better described as a chronic political emergency. In such a context, uncritical pursuit of developmental strategies may negatively affect the welfare of conflict-affected populations.