Khartoum — Earlier this year, when heavy rains caused massive flooding in Sudan, a three-month state of emergency was declared in September. The floods which began in July, were the worst the country experienced in the last three decades and affected some 830,000 people, including 125,000 refugees and internally displaced people.
According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, the Nile had reached a level of over 17 metres, bursting it banks and leaving thousands "homeless and in desperate need of humanitarian support".
Sudan, the largest country in Africa, is most vulnerable to climate variability and change.
"Drought and flooding are the biggest climate challenges in Sudan and we have seen this recently," Rehab Abdelmajeed Osman, a researcher and the National Determined Contributions (NDCs) coordinator at Sudan's Higher Council for Environment and Natural Resources (HCENR), told IPS, referring to the recent floods.
NDCs outline the plans by countries to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. As agreed by the 2015 Paris Agreement, countries review these plans every 5 years.
Support to submit enhanced NDCs
With support from the Climate Action Enhancement Package (CAEP), an initiative of the NDC Partnership, Sudan is one of 63 countries that have been given financial and technical assistance to submit enhanced NDCs and fast track their implementation. CAEP has brought together member countries and 40 partners that include International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the World Resources Institute, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the U.N and the Nature Conservancy. In Sudan, the support is being implemented through the HCENR.
Abdelmajeed Osman and Areeg Gafaar, the coordinator for the NDC Partnership, are rushing to finish the plan by next year.
Sudan's NDCs prioritise mitigation and adaptation as strategies.
"By looking at mitigation, we look at the problems we have in Sudan through this lens. Sudan is facing increasing floods and droughts and this will affect food security and also in some places, rainfall is decreasing and people have to adapt accordingly," Gafaar told IPS.
Food security also remains among the key issues of concern for people. An assessment after the floods noted that more than 2 million hectares of farmland had been affected.
And in August, the U.N. World Food Programme noted that 1.4 million people in Khartoum alone "are experiencing high levels of food insecurity through September due to economic decline, inflation and food price hikes exacerbated by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic".
"In agriculture, we have to adapt to climate vulnerabilities and in this regard, our adaptation projects are critical and they provide services such as improved seeds and working on improving our micro-forecast systems," added Gafaar.
The environment takes a backseat to conflict
The challenges Sudan faces to develop and implement the NDCs are not only linked to external factors, such as access to funding, but also to internal ones, which include the chaotic structure in which Sudan's environmental entities operate, as well as conflict.
"Conflict is the biggest threat to the environment because it is a result of, as well as a source of, competition over scarce resources. Peace makes sure that conflict over resources is lessened," said Abdelmajeed Osman.
In April 2019, Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir, who had ruled for 30 years, was ousted from power after four months of sustained protests. A war between the transitional government and rebel groups from the western region of Darfur and the southern states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, ended in October after an historic peace agreement between the transitional government and armed groups was signed.
Over the past 15 years, Sudan developed two national communications as part of its obligations to the climate convention and now a third communication is underway.
"The communication is just a communication but not a strategy. Sudan had a national action plan and it was developed as per the commitments to the convention to help countries pursue a climate friendly system. But due to political issues, Sudan couldn't access many funding pools and as a result, a few pilot projects were implemented, but they were not mainstreamed," said Gafaar.
Reasons for this include Sudan's inclusion on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list for 27 years (Sudan was removed from the list this month by United States President Donald Trump) and the U.S. having imposed sanctions on the country since 1998.
Another reason is the chaotic department structure created by Sudan's previous government.
"There were many different institutions such as the [HCENR] where we work, but also a national council for the environment as well as the national council on deforestation and the new government created a law that merged those councils and put us under the Council of Ministers," said Abdelmajeed Osman.
Under Al-Bashir's government, the same entities found themselves under the former presidency as well the short-lived Ministry for the Environment. The ministry essentially had the same departments as the HCENR, which resulted in a duplication of efforts and a lack of coordination that led to antagonism towards the HCENR.
A new structure in place
"Now because we are under the Council of Minister, our budget will increase and the decisions are made quicker because of the direct channel," said Abdelmajeed Osman.
Sudan's constitutional declaration for the transitional period prioritises environment protection as a mandate of the government, stating the government will "work on maintaining a clean environment and biodiversity in the country and protecting and developing it in a manner that guarantees the future of generations".
This commitment from the top-tiers of the government is essential as the NDCs are described by the higher council as a government paper that requires implementation by it.
Gafaar, who has years of experience working in this field, told IPS that some of the mitigation options that the government can focus on include renewable energy, forest management and waste management.
"This process gave us access to partners. We will have access to mitigation options by an international expert company and we will work on power and nature with IRENA," said Gafaar.