State of the Environment in Sudan

Asim El Moghraby

Sudan is an example that projects the environmental plight of Africa, south of the Sahara – drought and desertification, floods, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, tribal and ethnic conflict and poverty are only too common. As a result, interest and commitment to environmental impact assessment practices have become mandatory by donors when executing new development projects. Older projects, however, continue to escape notice.
New projects compile their own ‘ EIA’ with no genuine efforts to legalize and institutionalize EIA.


No doubt accumulating indigenous knowledge and cultures are influenced by natural resources and the intensity of their use. In this respect Sudan could be taken as an example of the whole Sudano-Sahelian Belt, across Africa south of the Sahara. Historically tribal communities were well
organized in mitigating natural disasters like fire and the invasion by the desert locust. Managing natural resources became more institutionally efficient after the re-conquest of Sudan in 1898. The first environmental law enacted was the Forestry Act of 1901, followed by the Land Tenure Law of 1908. The early 30s witnessed several environmental initiatives. The 40s produced the ‘Stepping Report’ on desert encroachment in Sudan and neighboring African Countries. The Forestry Law came into force in 1932, the Wildlife Act and the proclamation of several National Parks came in
1935. The Land Use Committee was also established in 1944. It was a good record! Management of resources, however, was focused on exporting raw materials to the benefit of colonial countries.
Many years ahead of its time was the establishment of the Jonglei Investigation Team to look into the probable impacts of the Equatorial Nile Project. The four-volume report, submitted in 1954, is perhaps the first Environmental Impact Assessment endeavor ever carried out prior to a
development project in Africa. The project was subsequently abandoned due to its monumental environmental and social repercussions.
After independence in 1956 the National Governments took several initiatives to manage and rehabilitate natural resources. Several specialized departments and units were created to conserve soils and program water etc. Massive projects were launched like the anti-thirst campaign of the
1960s, expansion in rain-fed and irrigated agriculture, building dams across the Nile and other rivers, overstocking livestock, deforestation etc. This resulted in large-scale population movements, environmental degradation,
dam siltation etc. It must be stressed that the outlook had always been that natural resources are renewable and infinite. The value put on the soils, waters and natural vegetation covers for example was zero in the
calculations of cost and benefit of new projects.
Professional and sectoral tribalism and population explosion as well as cyclic droughts increased synergetic pressures on the natural resources culminating in chronic poverty, repeated famines and near total collapse in life-supporting production systems. Sudan is at this point in time one of the
poorest countries in the world; in spite of the fact that it is vastly rich in natural resources and highly qualified professionals. It is a typical situation
of ‘scarcity among the plenty’.
Firm political commitment and understanding of the environmental dimensions of resource management does not exist. Many examples could be cited. The new adoption of the federal laws divided the country into 26 states. The division of old administration areas into northern and southern states neglected the ecological need to draw management plans on regional bases.


With an area of around 2.5 million square km Sudan stretches between latitudes 4 and 22 North. It is mostly flat plains with a few mountain areas, the highest of which is Jebel Marra massive in the west. It is bounded by
nine countries and a coastline around 650km on the east. Sudan has around 2000 million ha of surface water the most important of which is a 4000 km stretch of the Nile and tributaries. Rainfall ranges between almost nothing in the barren deserts of the north to about 1400mm in the southern subhumid parts of the country. The climate is tropical and is one of the hottest in the world with vast daily and seasonal variations in temperature.
According to the 1993 census Sudan is inhabited by almost 25 million people of whom 25% live in the capital, Khartoum. They belong to about 700 tribes speaking more than 300 dialects and languages. The rate of growth is around 2.9%. About 80% of the population depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Cotton, oil seeds, Gum Arabic and livestock are the main exports of the country.
Harrison and Jackson classified the ecological zones of Sudan in 1958 as:
• Deserts: cover almost 30% of the northern parts. Annual precipitation is less than 50 mm; soils are sandy. Sparse vegetation grows on seasonal ‘waddis’ and the banks of the Nile.
• Semi deserts: cover above 20% south of the desert belt. Rainfal between 50 and 300 mm. It is speckled with few Acacia trees and thorny bushes and zerophytes.
• Low rainfall woodland Savannah: covers about 27% of the area of Sudan with rainfall less than 900 mm. A nine-month dry period.
Annual grasses are dominant. Heavy clay soils lie on the east of the Nile and the west is sandy. Most of the 36 million feddans of rain-fed agriculture and the 4 million irrigated lands fall within this heavily populated belt.
• High rainfall woodland Savannah: 13% of the area with rainfall more than 900 mm and with broad-leafed trees in the Southern parts of Sudan
• Swamps: are probably the largest in the world and cover about l0% and fall in three main areas around the tributaries of the White Nile.
• Highlands: are less than 0.3% of the area of Sudan and are scattered along the Red Sea coast, the south and the west of the country.
• The Red Sea Cost-Marine ecosystem, mangrove swamps, coral reefs and associated fauna.
The ecological diversity is reflected in the richness of biodiversity; out of 13 mammalian orders in Africa, 12 occur in Sudan. Cave and Macdonald (1958) recorded 971 species of birds. Setzer (1956) reported 91 genera and 224 species and sub-species of mammals other than bats.
The Nile is the home of 106 species of fish and the swamps are considered as a major gene reserve (Moghraby 1982). One water sample taken by Prowse in 1958 ‘contained 211 species and varieties of desmids of which no less than 21 were entirely new species and 48 are new varieties and formae’ (Hammerton 1964). World Research Institution Annual Report 1995 recorded 3112 flowering plants in Sudan.
Biomass makes up more than 80% of the energy used, 12% are petroleum derivatives while hydropower is only I %. Oil reserves have recently been discovered in the western and southern parts of the country. Sudan is currently suffering from a chronic energy crisis

Environment State

At the beginning of the 20th century the population of Sudan was only three millions and the economy was a subsistence one. Modernization of the economy and social progress started with education well before World War One. Massive agricultural schemes like the Gezira (2.5 million feddans)
were launched after the War. This involved building dams and irrigation works (10 thousand km of canalization in the Gezira scheme).
Although pilot projects, to test production techniques, preceded the full scale launching of the project, environmental impacts, like deforestation, population movements, Stalinization and water related diseases, were not even considered. The goal of the scheme was the production of long-stable cotton for export. Economic progress followed in many directions, influenced by the colonial powers, trying to bridge the gulf between
production growth and a stagnant economy.

You May Also Like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *