Following our story of the inspiring work of Ursala Ravoka and the relocation of the world’s first climate refugees from their island which is being swallowed by the sea, this instalment of Planet Earth Games’ series on people’s climate change stories turns our gaze to Sudan. Riddled with drought, famine and poverty, the UN is warning that war-torn Sudan may be heading towards conflicts over water and fertile lands.
Oxfam East Africa / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)
70-year-old Hamud El-Nour Hamdallah told journalists that he remembers when his village was within a dense forest. Goz El Halg, on the banks of Sudan’s River Nile, was so engulfed by the trees that if you had not been able to find the village by nightfall, you would have to wait until the morning to find your way out. After surviving decades of drought, deforestation, and desertification, Hamdallah has seen his home swallowed by the sand.
Photograph by Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah for Reuters, via The Guardian
“It’s especially scary when the house is covered at night and you can only wait in the dark until morning to dig your way out,” Hamdallah and his neighbours regularly use shovels and tractors to uncover houses and farms. “We have been almost buried in sand”. This process of land being swallowed by the sand is called desertification, unfortunately it is a growing problem across the Sahara due to drought, deforestation and global warming.
Photo by Mohammed Basheer for UNDP, via The Guardian
Goz El Halg, named for the invading ‘gezan’ dunes, is just one many villages which have been snapped up by the desert. In fact, Hamdullah has had to move three times in his lifetime. Along with his fellow elders, he can remember how the sand flows through the windows at night and can even cause the buildings to collapse. Sudan’s government has planted over 23,000 seedlings along 12km of the Nile’s edges.
Photo by UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), via The Guardian
Hamdallah and the other elders come daily to water the new trees. They want to bring back the forests of their youth, so plant trees of which they will never get to sit in the shade. The elders teach the youth that the area was not always covered in dunes, and they emphasise the importance of conserving the forests. “Don’t cut a leaf off a tree because we don’t want drought and desert to come to us,” said local 14-year-old Ruwaya Ferra, repeating one of the mantras learned in school.
Photo by Catherine Robinson for UNHRC
“I’m delighted about these trees because they protect us,” Hamdallah said, considering whether or not he will have to uproot a fourth time. “I don’t think so. They have saved us from the sands, I think.” Hamdallah and the elders are committed to giving Ferra and the younger generations a permanent home, protected from climate change.
Across Sudan, four million people are in need of food aid as a directly result of unpredictable rains and poor harvests. The UN has reported that Sudan’s brutal war, which has caused over 400,000 deaths, was driven by climate change and environmental degradation. As Sudan reaches a searing 50-degree heat, the desert encroaches over a mile per year.
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by Matt Thomson