Four years ago, Aziza Mohammed Abdallah Mukhtar was scraping a living growing tobacco in the community of Zamzam in Sudan’s arid North Darfur State.
Like many Darfuris, Aziza, 52, has lived for decades in a fragile environment, characterized by growing climatic variability and periods of shortage. Her crops took seven months to mature under normal conditions, stretching the widowed mother of five’s resilience to breaking point.
Now, thanks to a project that spreads seasonal water to increase agricultural productivity and reduce soil erosion, Aziza has yielded thriving crops such as watermelon, sorghum, tomato, okra and sesame.
“This project has enabled me to finance my children’s education,” she says. Three of her children are now studying at universities in Khartoum.
UN Environment has been implementing the European Union-funded Wadi El Ku Catchment Management Project since 2014, partnering with local organization Practical Action, the Government of Sudan and communities such as Aziza’s.
Before the US$7.7 million project, Aziza’s land, close to the state capital of El Fasher, did not receive water from the wadi (a channel that fills up in the rainy season). The seven-metre-high water spreading embankment built under the project, which extends 1.2 kilometres along the Zamzam administrative area, has helped her and other locals to diversify agricultural output.
Two other embankments, three water channels and two water reservoirs have been constructed or rehabilitated. This has enabled nearly 1,600 households from 34 village councils to triple production of sorghum and millet, and grow vegetables and cash crops well into the dry season.
The benefits are not restricted to increasing resilience to droughts. With resources like water and land increasingly scarce, grievances also often arise between competing communities in Darfur. These lead to local conflicts, and played a major role in the war that broke out in 2003.
The project has helped reduce tensions, especially between pastoralists and crop farmers. Community councils from many villages meet to evaluate the best way of using the water, while committees ensure technical and political engagement at state level.
The second phase, launched in November 2018, aims to expand integrated water resource management to communities upstream and downstream of the Wadi El Ku catchment. It will directly benefit 80,000 households within the area.
“Less water availability impacts on health and food security. It triggers displacement of people and political instability,” says Jean-Michel Dumond, the European Union’s Ambassador to Sudan. “Our hope is that the same model could be reproduced in other regions. This will help local populations to better manage their natural resources in partnership towards a peaceful and profitable future.”
In East Darfur State, meanwhile, another UN Environment and European Union project, implemented by the UN Office for Project Services, is starting to make a similar difference to communities struggling to manage their resources.
“When I was growing up, there were less than 50 households here,” says Abdulrahman Ismail, a cleric who lives in East Darfur’s Bakhiet village. “Now, it has risen to more than 5,000. Trees have been decimated due to cooking energy demands.”
These environmental changes are just as common in other parts of the semi-arid state, which covers an area slightly larger than Greece and is home to about 1.5 million residents.
The East Darfur Natural Resources Management Project supports six communities by increasing their ability to implement natural resource management policy reform. In May 2018, nearly three years since the project’s launch, the East Darfur State Legislature passed the 2018 Council Act for Coordination and Management of Natural Resource Policies for East Darfur State.
The legislation is the first of its kind in Sudan and provides a framework for the joint management of resources by the state government and local communities. Through a separate piece of legislation passed in September, East Darfur is also working to promote the joint management of water yards, dams and other water sources within its territory.
As climate change bites harder and populations continue to grow—in Darfur and many other regions across Africa—efforts that help communities share their resources will be crucial in preventing conflicts and minimizing the impacts of dry spells.
UN Environment has provided environmental support to Sudan since the 1990s. Its work spans natural resource management, livelihoods, climate change adaptation, environmental governance, peacebuilding and conflict resolution, and strengthening women’s roles in local peacebuilding processes.
This article is part of a series of stories highlighting UN Environment’s work and published in the 2018 Annual Report.