Over the past half-century, Sudan's Darfur region has experienced rapid population growth, periodic drought and, since 2003, a cycle of conflict that has displaced over two million people from their villages, many of whom now live in Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps near the towns- putting pressure on the region's natural environment as people concentrate and compete for finite resources.
Since competition over resources has contributed to conflict in the first place, worsening the natural environment that so many depend on is neither sustainable nor supportive of economic recovery and peace. In an effort to address this, UNEP, together with the European Union, the Darfur Regional Authority, and the Government of North Darfur, launched a three-year,6.45-million project in 2013 to support recovery.
This will be done by showing how effective and inclusive natural resource management, based on UNEP's experience in Sudan with water resource management and community driven planning, can improve livelihoods through enabling sustainable increases in agriculture and related value chain productivity. The intent is to create a model for inclusive and effective water catchment management that can be scaled up and replicated elsewhere in Darfur.
"Conflict over land for agriculture and pasture is a major contributor to conflict in Darfur," said Remko Vonk, team leader of the Wadi El Ku Project (WEK) inception phase. "Approaching this issue from the grassroots level is important to understand what is really happening."
The project initially aims to reach 81,000 residents from farming, pastoralist and agro-pastoralist communities in the wadi (a valley or seasonal riverbed). The project's inception phase has involved research to pin down the challenges and design appropriate interventions. The problems, the project team found, are many and varied.
"Wadi water is not utilized properly as many of the water systems are outdated or non-existent," said Aisha Abdulsadiq Abdelmajied from the CBO Women's Development Network, which represents more than ten communities in Wadi El Ku. "Firewood availability is also an issue, requiring travelling long distances and often raising vulnerability risks for women."
According to Mohamed Bashar Abdulrahman from the Voluntary Network for Rural Development, these natural-resource problems are a primary reason for inter-community issues.
"Scarcity in terms of agricultural land has led to conflict within the communities. Limited water has also led to increased tensions within communities," he said. "Grazing land is also limited and is known to cause tension between pastoralists and farmers. Improved dam structures and better irrigation systems are vital for these communities."
Working with the International NGO Practical Action and a committee of Darfuri technical experts, UNEP is supporting a mix of soil, water and forest conservation measures that will boost sustainable natural-resource decision making in Wadi El Ku, and contribute towards economic and livelihood recovery. Hopes are high that a rapid impact can be made in Wadi El Ku and, if operating conditions and budget allow, the project will expand to reach many more people.