'Environmental decay a root cause of Sudan strife'

Posted: 2 July 2007

Sudan is unlikely to see a lasting peace unless widespread and rapidly accelerating environmental degradation is urgently addressed, says a new assessment of the country, including the troubled region of Darfur.

The report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)indicates that among the root causes of decades of social strife and conflict are the rapidly eroding environmental services in several key parts of the country.

Camp for displaced persons, Darfur
Camp for displaced persons, Darfur
Sudan has the largest population of displaced persons in the world today. Nearly two million are in Darfur, in large settlements such as Abu Shouk IDP camp in El Fasher, Northern Darfur. Photo © UNEP
Investment in environmental management, financed by the international community and from the country's emerging boom in oil and gas exports, will be a vital part of the peace building effort, says the report.

The most serious concerns are land degradation, desertification and the spread of deserts southwards by an average of 100km over the past four decades.

These are linked with factors including overgrazing of fragile soils by a livestock population that has exploded from close to 27 million animals to around 135 million now.

Deforestration crisis

Many sensitive areas are also experiencing a 'deforestation crisis' which has led to a loss of almost 12 per cent of Sudan's forest cover in just 15 years. Indeed, some areas may undergo a total loss of forest cover within the next decade.

Encroaching sands, Sudan
Encroaching sands, Sudan
Encroaching sands have displaced entire communities, such as the people of the village of Jadallah. Photo © UNEP
Meanwhile, there is mounting evidence of long-term regional climate change in several parts of the country. This is witnessed by a very irregular but marked decline in rainfall, for which the clearest indications are found in Kordofan and Darfur states.

In Northern Darfur for example rainfall has reduced by a third in the past 80 years. Indeed, the scale of climate change as recorded in Northern Darfur is almost unprecedented,says the report. And its impacts are closely linked to conflict in the region, as desertification has added significantly to the stress on traditional agricultural and pastoral livelihoods.

In addition, "forecast climate change is expected to further reduce food production due to declining rainfall and increased variability, particularly in the Sahel belt. A drop in crop yields of up to 70 per cent is forecast for the most vulnerable areas," says the Sudan Post-Conflict Assessment.

Sudan's tragedy

"This report encapsulates the scale and many of the driving forces behind the tragedy of the Sudan - a tragedy that has been unfolding for decades touching the lives of millions of people and thousands of communities", said Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director.

Fishing could be expanded: Sudan
Fishing could be expanded: Sudan
At present the marine fisheries industry is very limited and most fish is consumed locally. Pgoto © UNEP
"However, the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement in 2005 and recent developments including the decision to deploy a joint African Union-UN peace keeping force for Darfur, offer a real chance to deliver a different future for the people of Sudan," he added.

"It is clear however that a big part of that future and central to keeping the peace will be the way in which Sudan's environment is rehabilitated and managed. Sudan's tragedy is not just the tragedy of one country in Africa - it is a window to a wider world underlining how issues such as uncontrolled depletion of natural resources like soils and forests allied to impacts like climate change can destabilize communities, even entire nations," said Mr Steiner.

Nuba mountains

While the tensions and conflicts in Darfur are currently in the headlines, the report warns that other parts of the Sudan could see resumptions of historical clashes driven in part by declines in environmental services.

This is particularly the case in some north-south border zones. In the Nuba mountains region in Southern Kordofan, for example, the indigenous Nuba tribe expressed concern over the damaging of trees and other vegetation due to the recent presence of the camel-herding Shanabla tribe. Like many pastoralist communities, the Shanabla have been forced to migrate south in search of adequate grazing land lost in the north to agricultural expansion and drought. Some Nuba warned of 'restarting the war' if this damage did not cease.

The assessment, which was requested and carried out in cooperation with the new Government of National Unity and the Government of Southern Sudan, makes raft of wide-ranging recommendations, including investment in environmental management and climate adaptation.

"The total cost of this report's recommendations is estimated at approximately $120 million over three to five years. These are not large figures when compared to the Sudanese GDP in 2005 of $85.5 billion," says the UNEP study.

To see the full report click here