UNEP: climate change behind Darfur conflict

A family at an internally displaced persons camp in Sudan Copyright: Wikipedia

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[NAIROBI] Climate change that transformed the Darfur region from sustainable agricultural land into a partial desert is behind the escalating conflict, according to a United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) assessment.

The study, published last week (22 June), is based on fieldwork gathered between January and August 2006, carried out by UNEP’s Post-Conflict and Disaster Management Branch, with the help of Sudanese and international experts.

"Climate change adds a new and harsh reality onto the already existing reality of declining environmental services, from land and soil to freshwater and forests," UNEP spokesperson Nick Nutall told SciDev.Net.

"A big part of the future, and central to keeping the peace will be the way in which Sudan’s environment is rehabilitated and managed," Achim Steiner, UNEP executive director said in a press release.

Sudan’s uncontrolled utilisation of land resources for grazing and shrinking forest cover has resulted in desertification, leading to a nearly 70 per cent drop in crop yields in most of Sudan, the UNEP study revealed.

Forest cover in Sudan has declined by 11.6 per cent since 1990. In Darfur alone, annual deforestation rates stand at 1.2 per cent, mainly driven by demand for firewood. The forests could be depleted within the next ten years, the study warns.

And the study says that Sudan will continue to transform into a desert because of escalating climate problems. The country faces unprecedented climate change over the next two decades, with temperatures set to rise by 0.5–1.5 degrees Celsius between 2030 and 2060, and rainfall to decline by approximately five per cent.

Climate models for the state of Northern Kordofan in southern Sudan show environmental degradation spreading southwards to the formerly agriculturally rich state.

Nutall told SciDev.Net that there is rising concern that climate change may lead to a new class of "environmental or climate refugees" (see UN: Policymakers must rethink desertification).

Steiner says the report encapsulates the scale and many of the driving forces behind the tragedy in Sudan, adding that Darfur is not just the tragedy of one country in Africa, but a window to wider, global issues such as uncontrolled depletion of natural resources and the ability of climate change to destabilise communities.

Sudan requires approximately US$120 million over the next five years to invest in environmental management, including climate adaptation and mitigation measures and capacity building, says the report. Part of this funding will come from Sudan’s emerging boom in oil and gas exports.

UNEP has also suggested that Sudan integrates environmental matters into development planning.