Environmental degradation is among the root causes of decades of conflict in Sudan, a new United Nations report argues, warning that the country is unlikely to see lasting peace unless it is addressed.
The UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) investigation “has shown clearly that peace and people’s livelihoods in Darfur as well as in the rest of Sudan are inextricably linked to the environmental challenge,” said Achim Steiner, the Executive Director of the agency, which carried out the Sudan Post-Conflict Assessment at the request of the new Government of National Unity and the Government of Southern Sudan.
“Just as environmental degradation can contribute to the triggering and perpetuation of conflict, the sustainable management of natural resources can provide the basis for long-term stability, sustainable livelihoods, and development.”
Mr. Steiner saw positive signs in the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement in 2005 and recent developments including the decision to deploy a joint African Union-UN peacekeeping force to Darfur, where more than 200,000 people have been killed and at least 2 million others displaced since clashes erupted in 2003 between Government forces, allied Janjaweed militias and rebel groups.
But he warned the rehabilitation of Sudan’s environment is critical to peace efforts. “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.”
The most serious concerns are land degradation, the spread of deserts southwards by an average of 100 kilometres over the past four decades, and the overgrazing of fragile soils by a livestock population that has “exploded” from close to 27 million animals to around 135 million, according to the report.
It also cites mounting evidence of long-term regional climate change in several parts of the country, as witnessed by “a very irregular but marked decline in rainfall” especially in Kordofan and Darfur states.
While the tensions and conflicts in Darfur are currently in the headlines, the report warns that other parts of Sudan, particularly in the north-south border zones, could see resumptions of historical clashes driven in part by the erosion of environmental services.
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 peacebuilding effort.
The report contains specific recommendations for action in such areas as desertification, industrialization, urbanization, resources, agriculture, wildlife and displacement.
The total cost of carrying out these proposed measures is estimated at approximately $120 million over three to five years, states the report. “These are not large figures when compared to the Sudanese GDP in 2005 of $85.5 billion,” it adds.