In Sudan, conflict and environmental degradation go hand in hand

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Research by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) shows that at least 40% of all internal conflicts over the past 60 years can be linked to the exploitation of natural resources – high-value resources such as timber, diamonds, gold and oil to scarce resources such as fertile land and water.

In front of International Day for the Prevention of the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict on November 6, we spoke with Abuelgasim Adam from the Sudan office of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to learn more about the situation in the region, how conflicts can impact the environment and the fundamental role of women in building peace.

Q: Over 70,000 people were displaced in the latest conflict, mainly between the Hausa and Funj tribes in Sudan’s Blue Nile. What is the cause of the conflict and why is it escalating now?

Abuelgasim Adam (AA): The recent inter-tribal conflict in the Blue Nile is the first of its kind. It started in the locality of Wad Al Mahi in mid-July 2022. The conflict is not new to the region, however, which has pitted the government against opposition groups for more than 15 years. The conflict between the factions is mainly about territorial control, but natural resources play an important role in defining the dynamics of the conflict.

The fertile lands, diverse forests and essential minerals of the Blue Nile have long been sought to support the agricultural and pastoral livelihoods and diverse energy needs of the region, exploited for economic gain. In some cases, extractive resources, namely gum arabic and gold, contribute directly to financing the operations of the various armed groups. This conflict is concerning as it constitutes a political crisis with serious consequences for other longstanding tensions centered on access to and control of natural resources, including land, water and extractive resource sites.

How is the climate crisis impacting conflict dynamics in the Blue Nile?

AA: The situation is exacerbated by the aggravation of the effects of climate change. Across Sudan, rainfall has become more erratic, droughts longer and floods more frequent, while population and livestock growth have increased demand for fertile land, reliable water sources and sustainable livelihoods. There is a risk that escalating conflicts will make it more difficult to adapt to climate change, limiting mobility and access to economic or environmental resources, especially among already vulnerable communities.

What effect has the conflict had on the inhabitants?

AA: Above all, the recent clashes have caused a serious humanitarian crisis and threatened the relative peace and stability that the Blue Nile has enjoyed since the signing of the Juba Peace Agreement. From an environmental perspective, there is a real risk that the impacts of conflict will further undermine communities’ resilience to climate change, limit access to finance that would enable climate-resilient livelihoods, and weaken communities’ governance structures. natural resources.

The violence is causing people to turn to armed groups as a last resort since the country has been without a fully functioning, civilian-led government for months, one that can restore state authority across the country. It also increases competition for scarce resources, further fueling migration and displacement.

Together with UNDP, UN Women and the UN Peacebuilding Fund, UNEP is implementing a project to improve natural resource governance and create climate-smart opportunities for residents. How can this promote peace?

AA: Unlike past peacebuilding projects, key to the success of this project is the community-based environmental participatory approach, through which communities take responsibility and are empowered to manage their local environment and natural resources. It is a participatory process, providing a forum for all stakeholders, including women and youth. It allows people to be informed, to see the big picture and to reach a consensus on the main environmental problems, by agreeing on solutions that concern the community. Community engagement is strong and allows marginalized groups to play a leading role in building environmental solutions that contribute to peace.

The project focuses on empowering women agents of change. Why focus specifically on women?

AA: Women play a critical role in supporting families through their participation in natural resource-based livelihoods, including agricultural production, harvesting of forest products, artisanal mining, and water and fuel collection . In times of conflict, women’s roles related to natural resources can put them at increased risk of violence, including sexual and gender-based violence, when they travel far from their homes to access natural resources. In some cases, we see women traveling to places considered too dangerous for male household members or working in risky conditions at mining sites.

What is the role of women in promoting peacebuilding in the region?

AA: The economic and political exclusion of women limits their voice, access and control over resources, including natural resources. Experiences from other parts of Sudan have shown that when women are involved in natural resource governance mechanisms, plans and policies respond more accurately to the range of environmental and peacebuilding challenges communities face. confronted. Empowering women as leaders in natural resource management can also create a launching pad for empowering women in other governance or peacebuilding mechanisms.

Overexploitation of natural resources has long been a problem in the state. Unsustainable logging, expansion of artisanal mining, and land-clearing fires are common. How can you encourage communities that depend on these resources to be more sustainable?

AA: A vicious circle, the situation of lawlessness that results from a conflict leads to unequal control, exploitation and over-exploitation of natural resources, which in turn fuels the conflict itself. We focus on reminding communities of the importance of sustainable resource use. Good governance, community awareness and the provision of alternative options are essential. The project also supports the introduction of fuel-efficient stoves, the use of alternative building technologies and the promotion of solar energy and climate-smart agriculture, all of which help protect nature while improving the life.

This project brings opposing factions face to face for negotiations, often for the first time in years. Why is this important?

AA: Bringing opposing factions together to discuss shared natural resource issues is key to resolving differences. When these factions face each other and share their views, mediators will bridge the gap and facilitate direct interaction. In this way, they begin to listen to each other, and over time a relationship is built, leading to shared visions for the benefit of the region.

The climate crisis is expected to bring higher temperatures and more variable conditions to Blue Nile State. Can there be peace in this environment?

Yes, because all conflicts in the Blue Nile, including the recent one, are primarily political but can be exacerbated by climate change. Therefore, opportunities for peace depend primarily on addressing political development issues and, at the same time, building community resilience to climate change through adaptation.

UNEP is working with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and UN Women on the project ‘Support sustainable peace in the Blue Nile region through gender responsive natural resource governance, inclusive conflict resolution mechanisms and climate resilient livelihoods’. The project is funded speak United Nations Peacebuilding Fund (PBF).

UNEP is at the forefront of supporting the Paris Agreement objective to keep the global temperature increase well below 2°C and to aim – for safety – at 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels. To do this, UNEP has developed a Six Sector Solution roadmap to reduce emissions across all sectors in line with Paris Agreement commitments and in pursuit of climate stability. The six sectors are energy; Industry; agriculture and food; forests and land use; Transport, and Buildings and Cities. The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) in November 2022 will focus on adaptation, financing and a just transition – and you can do your part by act now on your own consumption or speak to express your concerns.

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