The environmental challenges facing Sudan — a country in east Africa with an area of 1.88 million square kilometers — are major. The country, which has three climatic zones, each with their own biodiversity, is ravaged by war: conflict has broken out in 32.7% of its total area and that consume approximately two thirds of its total budget.
Sudan is facing many challenges, the most prominent of which are the accelerating rates of desertification and land degradation due to the drop in the rainfall rates and because of droughts that have hit the country in recent decades. This has resulted in the rapid loss of pastoral, agricultural and forest areas, aggravated by the increasing food and energy needs of the Sudanese population, which is about 39.5 million, according to the UN’s 2017 estimation. One third of the population is concentrated in urban cities and Khartoum, the capital. The rising need for food and energy is the result of prolonged drought, wars and developmental degradation.
Population and Environment
The country’s population concentration has contributed to the horizontal expansion of cities at the expense of agricultural areas and green belts that protect land against the danger of soil erosion and desertification. It has also resulted in the decline in services and in high rates of environmental pollution, which in turn have led to pollution-related diseases. In January 2014, the Sudanese Ministry of Health acknowledged that mortality rates increased because of the deteriorating health environment and directly linked the phenomenon to environmental pollution. In December 2016, the Ministry confirmed that 19% of cancer cases and 80% of common diseases were due to the worsening health of the country’s environment.
At the city level, the pollution of drinking water, food, air and the disposal of industrial and domestic waste are among the most complicated public issues.
The pollution of drinking water is the main concern for city residents. They have doubts about the efficiency of drinking water plants and the commitment to global health regulations of the companies that run them. Moreover, reports have indicated that sewage water mixes with groundwater wells and does not meet the international standards of drinking water, both biologically and chemically. The Sudanese Health Ministry has acknowledged that this type of pollution exists. Last year, the Ministry said that pollution was the cause of about 16,000 cases of watery diarrhea in a dozen of Sudanese states (one state, While Nile, counted 5,000 cases alone). Between August 2016 and June 2017, 317 people died of watery diarrhea in Sudan, a report from the World Health Organisation found. Some of the high pollution rates are caused by the waste rejected by factories, the majority of which are located near banks of rivers. For instance in the area of Al Tasni’ al ‘Askari [military manufacturing] in the city of Jiyad, which counts factories of soap, food, and petroleum, in addition to leather tanning factories, the solid and liquid waste flows into the waterways of the river without being treated partially or completely. This endangers aquatic life and the productivity of agricultural land too. One example is the death of fish of the White Nile state in 2010. Moreover, some of the pollution rates are caused by pipes in the water networks that are made of carcinogenic asbestos.
Pollution and Waste
Food pollution appears to be widespread because of weak government supervision and control. Food pollution is caused by the contamination of water and soil with residues that affect germination. It also caused by the unrationalized use of fertilizers, chemical treatments, insecticides and herbicides, contaminants that impact the hygiene of workers and consumers during harvesting, packaging, transportation and conservation. Food pollution is also caused by the way street vendors sell water and food by displaying them on the sidewalks and in areas near sewage, where the goods are exposed to flies, dust and car exhaust smoke. Moreover, many restaurants in Sudan do not follow general rules to health conditions, and manufacturing and import industries violate basic related to the validity and quality of goods are violated too.
Apart from gas emissions from car exhaust, gas emissions from combustion processes in factories such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen and sulfur are responsible for air pollution too, especially because the treatment of these gases is considered to be highly costly for small and medium-sized factories.
Toxic gases also result from the incineration of waste in designated landfills, the random burning of domestic waste in neighborhoods, the burning of bricks and ceramics, and sewage spill.
The pollution of drinking water, food and air in Sudan is mostly due to the mechanism applied in collecting and disposing of industrial and domestic waste in all Sudanese cities. These processes show the failure to dispose of all forms of waste: waste is treated collectively, without sorting liquid and solid waste and analyzing it by components, types, or even without filtering gases resulting from the disposal processes. Besides, no industries are specialized in waste recycling and waste utilization.
The solid waste collection mechanism relies on tankers run by factories and cleaning companies, and it is transported to special landfills such as the Omdurman Landfill, which is the third largest in Africa and which receives 3,600 tonnes of waste from the Khartoum State everyday. This mechanism faces issues, including the lack of transport vehicles and cleaners, the collective negligence leading to the accumulation of waste in neighborhoods and markets, objections by citizens living in the residential areas that have become close to the landfills as they develop, and violations related to landfilling in non-designated places.
The liquid waste collection mechanism depends on sewage networks and the tankers of factories. The liquid waste is transported to special refineries, such as the Al Sahafah Refinery and the Industrial Sewage Plant for the Asalah Sugar Factory. This mechanism is obstructed by the weak linkage of sewage networks in industrial cities and residential neighborhoodst The poor quality of networks, the accumulation of dirt, the lack of refineries and the nearness of some refineries to residential neighborhoods tend to create suffocations or blocking of the sewage network. This in turn leads to frequent objections by citizens. Moreover, repeated violations are committed by tankers when disposing of waste in non-designated areas.
Other Environmental Threats
The increase in the rates of desertification, population growth and internal displacement alone does not create a major environmental challenge. Other developmental projects such as the construction of dams , as well as the oil and mining industries, have had a significant impact on the country’s environment and pollution rates. Regarding dams under construction or planned construction projects, one of the major challenges is to meet international standards to minimize the rates of silt deposits in dam lakes, the erosion of river banks, and the great deterioration in wetland systems, as was the case of acacia trees on the Blue Nile and the Dom palm trees on the banks of the Atbarah River, a tributary of Nile flowing from Ethiopia into Eastern Sudan.
The oil industry, in turn, has led to environmental impact that poses major challenges, such as the effect of discharging water while extracting crude oil that does not comply with standard conditions, because of the absence of facilities for treating the discharged water and because of the leakage of oil in the soil in production areas. The leakage threatens surface water and groundwater, casing wide deforestation in the production areas of Heglig in South Western Sudan and threatening marine life, especially coral reefs at the export outlets on the Red Sea.
Furthermore, the country’s mining industry is the most dangerous in terms of environmental impact because this industry is spread in large geographical areas. It also relies heavily on local mining without adhering to specific regulations, such as choosing mining sites that are far from waterfalls, ruins, and villages; using specific machines and materials in oil exploration and extraction; or regulations related to the required qualifications and efficiency of workers. Besides, Sudan’s mining industry involves dealing with some of the world’s most toxic extraction materials, such as cyanide and mercury. As a result of economic activities such as mining and coal burning, Sudan has some of the highest, and increasing, rates of mercury emissions in the world.
The environmental reality in Sudan is experiencing major deteriorationn, although it is a forerunner in enacting environment-related legislation aimed at protecting resources and giving priority to environment in economic investments. The first legislation related to environment in Sudan was endorsed in 1901 (the Animal Diseases Law), followed by more than 150 other legislative instruments on areas such as irrigation, energy, health and industrial affairs, and pest control. The latest legislation was the Environment Health Law in 2009, and the more comprehensive draft law on the protection of environment and natural resources of 2017. (Sudan also ratified the Paris climate agreement in 2017).
Yet the enforcement of these laws remains weak. Successive wars, economic downturn and administrative issues have definitely affected the work of competent government agencies such as the Ministry of the Environment, Natural Resources and Physical Development , the Supreme Council for Environment and Urban and Rural Development, and the Environment Court. The role of these agencies has become very restricted, and punishments and penalties on their own do not give relevant laws the effectiveness needed – to really enforce environment laws, the country would also need to raise awareness about the environment through academic curricula and the media.
However, civil society organizations active in the field of environment are exerting a remarkable effort to take action and raise the public awareness to environmental issues.Among them are the Sudanese Society for Environmental Protection (established in 1975), the Sudanese Environmental Community Organization, Youth Green Creep Organization, and the Sudanese Youth Parliament for Water – but they all impaired by the lack of sufficient funding and the hostile attitude of the Sudanese government towards independent NGOs.
These challenging conditions require serious action as well as financial and technical support by governmental, voluntary institutions and international organizations to find optimal and sustainable solutions. Should the situation remain unchanged, addressing environmental issues in Sudan will continue to be a challenge.
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