South Sudan: A New Green Country?

February 15, 2011 – Kurt Thurber

On July 9, 2011 a new country will be born as the population of South Sudan chose to break away from the northern part of the country. At the end of a referendum process, South Sudan decided with nearly 99 percent of vote to become the newest sovereign nation. Great news for the cartography industry, new world and African maps are going to be needed. Diplomatically and politically, it is hoped that it will end the civil unrest between the Arab/Islamic population in the north and the Christian population in the south.  Let’s take this opportunity to exam what the creation of this new country will mean for environmental issues that plague Africa and the world.

South Sudan will not be starting its existence in a poll position. The total population for the region is estimated somewhere between 8 to 14 million due to refugees coming back to the area and no central government apparatus to provide a census. The country’s infrastructure is lacking. Paved roads are nearly non-existent outside of the capital, Jubba. All electricity is generated by private generators. Due to the ongoing civil conflicts throughout Sudan’s history there are many armed factions still in the country.

If this was enough to deal with, the country is loaded with natural resources. They have an estimated 6.7 billion reserves in oil. There are large deposits gold, copper and iron ore. Before breaking away from the rest of Sudan, South Sudan faces the possibility of exploitation of its resources. Chinese oil companies already operate in the area.  For developing or third world countries, natural resources are as much a curse as a blessing. The mineral wealth will ensure that South Sudan has a relationship with the United States, the European Union, China and India, however, the extraction of raw materials and oil creates very few jobs and most of the profits will not be spent in South Sudan.  

It is estimated that 90 percent of the land in South Sudan is arable for agricultural production. Much of the land is used to support 11 million head of cattle, most of which are not used for beef production. Traditional beliefs in the area use cows as status symbols and currency. Many Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) are attempting to educate the South Sudanese to use more ecological herd practices as well as introducing profitable agricultural and orchard practices.

A September 2007 USAID report, sponsored by the International Resource Group, studied South Sudan’s wildlife and environmental resources. South Sudan possesses six different habitats including vast numbers of woodlands. Within these habitats there are various forms of wildlife from herds of gazelles and wildebeest to various indigenous fauna. As of now South Sudan contains five protected parks with a proposed sixth.  Conservation could be one of South Sudan’s most economical practices. The report lists the following factors as impediments towards the sustainability are a lack of government authority to enforce biodiversity standards, slow decentralization of management to environmental areas and the movement of people due to the conflict in the area. As with mineral exploitation, South Sudan’s various woodlands are also in danger of commercial exploitation and over-use for domestic consumption.

The bottom-line is that South Sudan is teeming with different habitats and subsequent wildlife. If they find stability in their government eco-tourism is an industry they can use to provide a higher standard of living for their population. This can be not only a new start for the people of South Sudan, also the way economical and sustainable development strategies are implemented. Most developing societies assume they have to go through traditional methods of Western civilization which caused much pollution. In the present and in the future, technologies and knowledge exists that these trends can be broken. South Sudan deserves to be a template for sustainable development and conservation.

Featured Image – Getty Images

Figure 1. – War News Updates

Figure 2. – Wildlife Consevation Society

Future is Now for the Sahel Region’s Climate

January 26, 2011- By Kurt Thurber

The climate change debate in the United States and Western Europe in the short-term is about convenience. The apocalyptic results of desertification, food shortages and fallow lands are fodder for politicians to debate in support or opposition of legislation.  In the Sahel region in Africa, climate change’s worst effects are present and destructive.

The Sahel region in Africa is a belt of land beneath the Sahara desert in North Africa. It stretches across the continent from the Atlantic coast to the Red Sea, encompassing Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. It is a semi-arid region, littered with grasslands and scarce water supplies as it transitions from the Sahara desert.  The populations in the region battle for the existence with food security concerns due to overgrazing and irregular irrigation that have been exacerbated due to climate change.

“Farmers can adapt to trends. They cannot adapt to extreme weather “– Petra Tschakert, Penn State University Climate-Change Expert.

The region has been the recipient of aid from the western world. In 2005, when famine hit the region, USAID coordinated efforts to provide $134 million to fight hunger. Since then millions of dollars have poured in from government and non-government organizations. The European Union has bought nearly $100 million in food vouchers for 2010. The United Nations food program has asked for over $300 million for emergency funds to meet its food and development goals. Money is not the problem. 

While the perception of the region is one of extreme dryness, flooding has become a concern. In northern Nigeria and in Niger thousands were displaced when unexpected rains burst a dam. The region is battling desertification.  Insurance programs for crop production, weather occurrences (too much or too little rainfall) are starting to gain traction as a safety net for a failed plantin season.  The programs provide some lead way for when weather does not cooperate with farming. However, the region needs to become sustainable to support its rapid population increases.  The population has doubled every 20 years and food production increases over time have not kept up.

All aid will be wasted if there is no regularity to weather patterns in the Sahel for people to practice sustainable agriculture and food production. Increases in conflict will continue has populations become desperate. While there are many factors for the civil violence in Sudan, food shortages and poverty played a part in southern Sudan, including Darfur, fighting for independence. Ethiopia and Eritrea have fought wars with their populations both trying to hold onto as much arable land as possible (also Ethiopia wanted access to the Red Sea).  Senegal is a less than a decade removed from a brutish civil war. Many of the Sahel countries, Chad, Burkina Faso and Niger, rank at the bottom of all global developmental indexes. 

The world is watching. Climate change and its after effects are no longer isolated to the extreme environs of the artic or the desert. The flooding in Pakistan, the intensity of hurricanes in Atlantic and the extreme heat conditions of the Russian summer are warnings of what the future holds if global warming is not reduced. The Sahel region can either experience famine and collapse or regenerate through a variety of environmental and political solutions. It remains to be seen whether the Sahel is a precursor for the worst of times or salvation and rebirth.

As mentioned above, the rich and developing countries (the United States, European Union, Japan, China, India, and Brazil) will not be able to throw some money at climate change and minimize its damage. They need to follow through with and enforce global environmental standards across all political borders.  In the long term, the conditions in the Sahel could be everywhere.