(UNEP-SUDAN) - In 2012-2015, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the European Commission
(EC) supported a pilot demonstration project on Ecosystem-based Disaster Risk Reduction (Eco-DRR) in Sudan. The Eco-DRR project was implemented in partnership with the National Government, the State Government of North Darfur, Practical Action, and local community based organizations.
Farming season on sandy soils is short (3 to 4 months at most) but on clay, wadi soils there are typically two, occasionally three, harvests (spanning 6-8 months). Millet is the most common crop. Most crop production is rainfed and takes place on small plots on goz soils. However, agricultural yields remain low, due to the low fertility of these sandy soils.
Traditionally, shifting cultivation allowed goz soils to recuperate after 3-5 years of cultivation, but in areas of increased population pressure, cultivation is more or less permanent, leading to extremely low yields.
On the other hand, the heavy clays that dominate the wadi make it much more difficult to cultivate these soils in comparison to goz soils. Un-mechanized agriculture is therefore a challenge when farming in wadi land. However, the water holding capacity and relatively high soil fertility make the wadi an essential part of the local food crop and cash crop economy.
Small-scale earth embankments across wadis of North Darfur have been built to spread water for flood-irrigated agriculture and take advantage of the fertile clay soils found in the wadis. Water retention structures (earth embankments) and terraces allow farmers to grow sorghum, sesame, hibiscus, vegetables and fruits such as watermelons.
Embankments also enhance sub-surface aquifers for domestic water supply and increase vegetation and rangeland fodder production. The increased utilization of wadi land makes overall water management increasingly important.
Local Natural Resource Governance System
In North Darfur, the native administration – a form of traditional governance that is based on the rule of the tribe and historical rights to land – is the institution most responsible for natural resource management and disaster management at the local level. Depending on the tribe, the native administrator, who often oversees multiple villages – has a different title; these include sheikh, agid, dimilig, etc. While modern statutory laws are in place in Sudan, in most rural areas, customary rules are respected, and traditional leaders play important roles in land distribution and natural resource management in the community.
A local administration – the lowest level of government – is also in place in the form of a popular committee and a Village Development Committee (VDCs), divided into different committees for education, water, farmers, pastoralists, women’s associations etc.
Local committees are in turn linked through a series of umbrella networks that include both resident and displaced communities (because of conflict), which oversee natural resource use and development planning.
However, given the lack of resources, the committees play a limited role in governance.
Community-based organizations (CBOs) are also key players in natural resource management. All of the CBOs in the project area are represented by one parent network of 71 CBOs, the Voluntary Network for Rural
Helping and Development (VNRHD), which was established with the support of Practical Action. In addition, different groups in the area are represented by a number of national unions.vi Four such unions are active in the area: a Farmer’s Union, a Pastoralist’s Union, a Youth Union and a Gum Arabic Producer’s Union.
Despite their important role in natural resource use, women essentially have no role in decision-making processes related to natural resource management by the native administration, popular committees or unions.
However, women are involved in the Village Development Committees and have formed active women’s groups, such as The Women Development Association Network (WDAN), which is active in the Kilimondo locality. Land tenure, as elsewhere in the Darfur region, is organized principally around tribal land grants (Dar) that date back to the pre-colonial Darfur Sultanate (1603-1874).
The Dar is land held in trust for the people by the tribal leadership, and is managed by land sheikhs, who are responsible for administering land use. This includes allocation of land leases for farming, and designation of areas for pastoralist migration, grazing, forestry, and other uses. Land leases for farming are granted to residents of the area, which are passed on from generation to generation. The land sheikh also plays a role in decisions around access to water points, and reconciles and settles disputes over access to water resources, plot boundaries, animal encroachment on cultivated areas and new land clearance. Nomadic pastoralists are allowed free passage and access to pasture and water sources by the local sheikh.
Main Hazards, Development Trends and Challenges in the Kilimondo Locality, N. Darfur
Community and national baseline assessments provided the primary basis for obtaining information on the major development trends and challenges related to ecosystems, ecosystem degradation and disaster risk in Wadi El Ku. Baseline assessments consisted of an in-depth household survey, community based land-use and risk mapping and multi-stakeholder consultations. Baseline assessments also served as a basis for project design and defining the key components of the Eco-DRR interventions in Sudan. Moreover, the project drew extensively from UNEP’s environmental assessments, including the “Sudan Post- Conflict Environmental Assessment” report (UNEP 2007).
Hazards and Climate Change
Droughts and floods are the most common natural hazards in the region. Sudan is affected by two types of droughts: occasional short-term droughts due to seasonal or inter-year variations in rainfall, and long term droughts covering wide areas due to precipitation deficits.3 Drought is particularly widespread in Western Sudan,4 making North Darfur one of the most drought-prone states in Sudan. There are multiple periods of deficient precipitation (i.e. meteorological drought) and crop failure (i.e. agricultural drought) on record for the region. For instance, while 1943- 1971 was a period of comparatively regular rainfall and conducive for agriculture (in terms of the ability to grow rain fed millet), the period 1971-1999 brought prolonged shortage of rainfall, with 16 out of 29 years suffering a complete crop failure.5 Since the mid-90s the conditions have improved again, albeit with intermittent years of low rainfall.
Floods occur during the rainy season when high precipitation results in a sudden rise in water volume in the wadi. Lack of vegetation
- Due to deforestation and desertification
-Around the wadi means that water flow is not regulated, leading to flash floods, which damage weakly constructed embankments and other infrastructure on its way. Flash floods, therefore, affect water accessibility for irrigation, and agricultural production.
With climate change, rainfall is expected to become less predictable, and droughts and flash floods will likely increase. The average rainfall is expected to further decrease (about 6mm/month) during the rainy season.8 As a result, current climate related hazards such as floods, drought, and the subsequent dust storms and heat waves are expected to intensify. In North Darfur, 20 out of the 25 driest years on record have occurred since 1972.9 Recurring series of dry years have already become a normal occurrence and will likely become even more common in the future.
As a result of repeated drought cycles, agropastoralists and pastoralists have reduced the number of cows they own and increased the number of camels and goats, as they are more resilient during drought conditions. Farming communities have also increasingly moved towards rearing small ruminants and livestock which are more adapted to arid conditions, in order to reduce their vulnerability to drought.
Pastoralists have established temporary settlements in the area to access water at village water yards.
Food Insecurity and Vulnerability to Disasters and Climate Change
The majority (80%) of North Darfur’s population of 1.75 million lives in rural areas, where their livelihoods (farming, herding, and agricultural trade) rely directly on local, natural resources. Their exposure and vulnerability to droughts is, therefore, high.
Since the 1980s poor rainfall, combined with ecosystem degradation and conflict has resulted in regular food deficits at the household level. A recent example, in 2011 North Darfur suffered a water scarce rainy season, putting rural populations under pressure. In May 2012, there were reports of some communities harvesting wild plants to fill their dietary needs. Increased vulnerability and lack of coping capacity to water scarcity led to the temporary displacement of many rural households to El Fasher town, the centre of North Darfur State.
It should be noted that the most critical period in terms of household food insecurity is from May to August (4 months), when people suffer from non-availability of food. Food is available on the market at this time, but people have very little purchasing power. Therefore, people often temporarily migrate to towns or to other localities which had higher rainfall, and work for grains as payment or for wages if they are based in towns.
A World Bank study in 2009 assessed Sudan to be the country most at risk from the effects of climate change on agriculture.
The Sudanese Government has predicted a significant long-term decline in the yields of staple millet and sorghum, due to shorter growing seasons. Other studies on winter crops in the River Nile State support this predicted trend.14 Such impacts are cause for serious concern for food security in the future, as previous drought and flood events have resulted in large-scale human suffering, hunger, forced migration from rural areas, and loss of livestock.
Among social groups, rain-fed farmers and pastoralists as the most vulnerable groups to climatic hazards and prone to food insecurity. Extreme poverty and limited livelihood options make these groups the least able to cope with disasters. Rain-fed farmers have to rely on erratic rainfall in short growing seasons. The vulnerability of pastoralists to drought is exacerbated by social factors such as the tendency to maximize livestock herd sizes rather than quality. Development factors can also intensify vulnerability to drought. These include the lack of secure water sources that can be relied on during short dry spells.
Environmental; Degradation and Linkages with Disasters
The target area experiences the major hazards (drought and dry spells, flash floods) and environmental challenges (desertification, degradation of rangelands, soil erosion, loss of biodiversity) that characterise North Darfur. Only 30 years ago, during the rainy season in North Darfur, the wadis were once lush with vegetation. Forests were part of the natural landscape, and the seasonal waters would give life to the drylands.
Today, the area is experiencing severe environmental degradation. Unsustainable farming, deforestation, and overgrazing have undermined the capacity of these dryland ecosystems to support local livelihoods.
Due to increasingly variable rainfall and population growth, poor quality goz (sandy) soils are over-cultivated and therefore degraded. Diminishing agricultural yields have forced farmers to cultivate increasingly larger areas of land. Agricultural expansion onto the rangeland has resulted in deforestation, which together with intensive cultivation
on sandy soils, and fodder collection has caused widespread land degradation and desertification. As a result, sand dunes are encroaching on fertile land, shrinking the area available for food production. Communities also increasingly rely on harvesting forest products, because of poor levels of crop production.
For pastoralists, expansion of crop production has meant less land available for grazing. During drought cycles, pasture areas are overgrazed, as animals cannot travel far due to the lack of water.
As a result of widespread deforestation and the unplanned construction of water harvesting embankments (see section 2.4) and terraces, deep gullies and ravines have been formed over the last decade in parts of the project area. These gullies concentrate the flow of surface water, reducing the spread of water across the wadi. This dramatically reduces the quality and area of land available for agricultural purposes. Flash floods are also responsible for deepening gullies, and therefore the scarce rainwater is not harvested or retained for irrigation. In addition, due to the removal of the vegetation from the goz soils, erosion of top soil occurs further deteriorating soil fertility and land productivity.
Water Resource Management Challenges
Since 1970, nearly 80 embankments have been built by the Government and different international and national Non- Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in the Darfur regions, with 15 such structures located in the State of North Darfur. In addition, there are hundreds, possibly thousands, of smaller earth embankments that are constructed on wadis by farmers themselves who hire heavy machinery. Water retention structures are often constructed in response to localized demand but tend to be unplanned, and do not take into account the wider catchment and water resource management context.
The haphazard construction of water retention structures has resulted in unregulated and incompatible water uses, which are exacerbating flood and drought risks. Embankment constructions can alter the course of the wadi or amount of its flow, therefore changing water accessibility to downstream communities for irrigated agriculture, livestock, and human use.
There is, therefore, a clear need for better coordination of embankment constructions and water management among upstream and downstream communities, and social environmental assessments to ensure that embankment constructions do not exacerbate the vulnerabilities of communities in Darfur.
The structures of embankments are often weak, leading to damage to the embankment during strong water flows and high rates of siltation, which reduce the water holding capacity. Due to the need for maintenance and repair, the success of water retention structures depends on the level of community participation and local ownership, as much as on the technical quality of the structures.
Therefore, high engagement of communities and having the capacity to operate, manage, and repair water retention structures are an essential element of improved water accessibility and reducing the risk of water related hazards in North Darfur.
Conflict and Sustainable Natural Resource Management
Environmental degradation has fomented local tensions between pastoralist groups and the farming communities. Nomadic pastoralists, who migrate north to the Sahel, pass through the area. They are generally allowed free passage and access to pasture and water by the local sheikhs in Kilimondo locality.
However, conflicts over water use and pasture can occur. One of the reasons for conflict is that farmers respond to the increasingly low productivity of the goz soils by expanding the area under cultivation. This, in turn, drives farmers into areas that are used by pastoralists for their migration routes, leading to local level tension and conflict.
In addition, the Kilimondo locality is representative of the wider political dimensions of conflict in Darfur. A rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) was in control of the area from 2004 – 2011 (from 2007-11 in cooperation with the Government of Sudan following a peace agreement), until expelled by Government forces after the breakdown of the peace agreement.
Members of those tribes who were associated with the SLA during the occupation were also displaced from their villages. The SLA responded by launching surprise attacks on the villages, burning homes and stealing assets including cattle.
The Darfur conflict has exacerbated the unsustainable use of natural resources, which is also linked to the breakdown of local environmental governance structures. The fragile state of peace and security undermines the power of the native administration to regulate local rules and customs related to environmental governance. At the same time, the protracted conflict in Darfur has created an institutional vacuum within Government bodies, therefore constraining implementation of policies and regulations.
The peaceful conditions in and around the project area remain fragile. In 2014, the security situation deteriorated significantly in North Darfur, spreading to Kilimondo. Waa’dha, the capital of the Kilimondo locality and one of the target Eco-DRR villages, was attacked twice by rebel forces, resulting in a number of casualties, looting and the destruction of several Government buildings. The wider conflict led to the displacement of several thousands of households in Kilimondo, El Fasher and other parts of North Darfur, who fled to neighbouring localities. Pastoralists were forced to change their migration routes, which in turn caused tension and small-scale conflict with farming communities along the routes used for livestock migration.