Sudan’s Environmental Issues

Alula Berhe Kidani

Sudan is richly endowed with natural resources such as oil, forests, and agricultural lands. Sudan’s long history of conflict, combined with irrational utilization of natural resources, has created a range of critical environmental challenges. Sudan faces many environmental issues including desertification, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, water scarcity; tribal and ethnic conflict and poverty are only too common. Sudan’s current issues include inadequate supplies of potable water; wildlife populations threatened by excessive hunting; soil erosion; desertification; periodic drought. The three environmental issues I will be focusing on are deforestation, desertification and Sudan’s lack of water/water pollution. Deforestation is the destruction of vast areas of forest, for example unsustainable forestry practices, agricultural and range land clearing, and the over exploitation of wood products for use as fuel, without planting new growth. Desertification is the spread of desert-like conditions in arid or semi-arid areas, due to overgrazing, loss of agriculturally productive soils, or climate change.
The annual rate of deforestation is close to 504 thousand hectares. Only 30,000 ha are reforested (Moghabry 33). Sudan has lost a number of wild life species in the last two decades; many more are endangered or vulnerable. This is mostly due to habitat destruction. Several grasses and herbs have disappeared due to overgrazing, repeated droughts and fires. Fires are responsible for the annual loss of 30% dry fodder otherwise available to wild life and the 103 million heads of livestock (Moghabry 33). Expanding human settlements threaten the country’s forests. Fuels such as wood provide 75 percent of Sudan’s energy supply, and the demand for charcoal has led to the clearing of many Sudanese forests. Deforestation, overgrazing, and poor land management practices all speed the process of desertification, as the Sahara encroaches onto previously arable and forested land.
The livelihood of Sudan depends on its excess use of its water sources. Eighty percent of the country works in agriculture, which accounts for 97% of its water use (Barton). Most farms are rural and fed by rainwater. They provide for a family or a small community, making them the majority means of living for the Sudanese. Yet, their farming practices are hurting the environment. Much of Sudan’s land is cultivated by mechanized farming. This intense agricultural system has reduced arable soil, and according the United Nations Environment Programme, has caused desertification to spread. The irrigation used to feed the mechanized farms and intense cultivation by rural Sudanese are causal to the arid environment diffusing over Sudan. Sudan is now one of the few countries in the world where the share of people with access to safe drinking water has declined over the past decade. This is a key cause of child mortality and poor health. In northern Sudan 70% of the population is estimated to have access to an improved water source. However, this conceals important regional variations, ranging from 24% in Blue Nile state and over 90% in Khartoum state. In Southern Sudan 30% of the population is estimated to have access to safe water. Data on water quality is very weak, but water pollution from industries, agriculture and poor sanitation is considered as an important and growing problem. Sanitation is generally very poor and in the many rapidly growing cities lack of adequate waste management and sewage treatment contribute to increasing environmentally related health problems. Tens of thousands of refugees fleeing fighting in Sudan are struggling to find enough water to drink and cook with, leading to the deaths of an unknown number from dehydration and diarrhea (New York Times 2012).
Sudan’s loss of soil fertility and physical loss of soil due to erosion and desertification are critical issues throughout the country. Almost 30% of Sudan is classified as desert. An estimated 50 to 200 km southward shift of the boundary between semi-desert and desert has occurred since the 1930s (Sudan Policy Brief 2). Most of the remaining semi-arid and low rainfall savannah, representing approximately 25% of Sudan’s agricultural land, is at considerable risk of further desertification. Desertification is projected to continue to move southwards due to climate change and changing rainfall patterns causing an estimated 20% drop in food production. Overgrazing, inappropriate agricultural practices and deforestation mainly cause land degradation. The rapid population growth and growth in livestock has led to a marked increased demand for lands for grazing and agriculture.
In order of importance I placed deforestation first. However, I was stuck in between deforestation and Sudan’s water excess and sanitation. These two issues both cause harm to the lives of humans and animals. Yet, I still put deforestation before water because people are aware of the crisis of water, whereas with deforestation people don’t acknowledge the harm as much as they do with water. With deforestation people aren’t much concerning with their actions, rather they think of their own selfish needs. They destroy many forests and land in order to develop more land for humans. The second environmental issue I proposed was the inefficient lack of water. Because of the high demand in water for 80% of agriculture, the availability of water to the country’s inhabitants continually remains low. This has led to serious issues such as dehydration, deaths, and so forth. Women and children devote most time in their days to gather water from distant sources. They risk their health and safety by bearing frequent trips to a well remote from their home. Last, but not least, I included desertification because of the loss of arable land. In turn this can affect Sudan dramatically when there is no more land to crow any more crops. Not only will they be short on water, but they will also have no crops to feed on.
Information technology and deforestation has a great amount of relation. Direct causes of deforestation through technology include agricultural expansion, wood extraction, and infrastructure expansion such as road building and urbanization (Earth Observatory). The conversion to agricultural land usually results from multiple direct factors. For example, countries such as Sudan build roads into remote areas to improve overland transportation of goods. The road development itself causes a limited amount of deforestation. Logging activities begin with the construction of roads to gain access to the timber. This itself consumes huge areas of forest as much as 15% of the logging area may be cleared for roads. An information technology that has been effective and used to monitor deforestation is the software, which uses Google’s computing resources is called Earth Engine. This software shows satellite images of forests. With this information technology scientific analysis can transform these images from a mere set of pixels into useful information such as the locations and extent of global forests, detecting how our forests are changing over time, directing resources for disaster response. Analysis can transform these images from a mere set of pixels into useful information such as the locations and extent of global forests, detecting how our forests are changing over time, directing resources for disaster response or water resource mapping (Environmental News). This is a step closer to progress in trying to prevent deforestation. Another way to prevent deforestation is simply reforestation. Reforestation is the planting of a tree when a tree has been cut off. By doing this, logging activities would not be entirely scrapped, and at the same time, forests are renewed.

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