Many parts of Sudan’s Darfur and Kordofan regions are low-rainfall and drought-prone agro-pastoral areas. The resulting water scarcity and poor vegetation fosters low agricultural productivity and consequently, competition and conflict over the few available natural resources.
In many of these areas, women are not only the backbones of their families but the lifeblood of their communities.
They often walk between three and six kilometres each way to fetch water for essential daily consumption, and Mokshasha village, in Kerenik area of West Darfur State, is no exception. These time-consuming walks have also exposed them to the risk of violence.
The women in the village, whose population stands at slightly over 3,000 residents drawn from 14 different ethnicities, often compete for access to water sources such as water wells. This situation further complicates their already arduous task of fetching drinking and cooking water.
In the rainy season, women in this primarily farming community cultivate crops such as peanuts, sugar-cane, sorghum, sesame, millet and beans. In winter, their focus shifts to growing fruit and vegetables such as tomatoes, onions and watermelons, while throughout the year they offer a steady hand in animal husbandry, raising camels sheep, horses, cows and poultry which are critical for the livelihoods and well-being of their community.
Their pivotal role in the Mokshasha community is not only restricted to their households but is also evident in local markets where they operate small businesses such as food and tea stalls.
While many women in Darfur take up farming as a means of generating household income, many of them are also unwittingly driven by the scarce natural resources to engage in environmentally unsound practices such as firewood harvesting and charcoal production.
In June 2015, cognizant of the natural resource challenges facing communities in both regions, UN Environment, with funding from the European Union, launched the project Promoting Peace over Natural Resources in Darfur and Kordofan.
“The project sought to reduce the incidence of local conflict over natural resources through improved natural resource management and strengthening of dispute resolution institutions. It focused on strengthening relationships between communities and authorities over natural resources in the target areas,” says Robbert Bekker, Senior Programme Advisor in UN Environment’s Sudan Country Office.
Hawa, 36, who hails from the Gimir tribe, sells vegetables and recounts an incident where a quarrel over water between her and another woman spiralled into a serious confrontation between more women.
"She humiliated me by trying to take my turn. She said I did not belong to her tribe, and that I had no right to access the water before her. What started as an exchange of abusive words rapidly escalated into a physical confrontation which drew in more women,” says Hawa.
However, the intervention of women elders who—thanks to the project—are now part of the previously men-only reconciliation committee, the tension was defused.
Because of the project’s intervention 24 village development committees, in the target areas, implemented women’s representation. The women were also trained on issues such as community organization, managing water sources, basic financial issues and promotion of hygiene.
“The project successfully established and trained community-based natural resource management committees. It successfully piloted savings groups and other revolving funds to support women and youth income-generation activities and actively supported women’s role in key decision-making structures,” says Huda Ali, Gender Specialist in UN Environment’s Sudan Country Office.
Some of these interventions have also entailed supporting the training of women to produce fuel-efficient stoves or to purchase and distribute liquid petroleum gas stoves to reduce firewood consumption.
“The project successfully established seven peace forums and delivered targeted training for peace-building and community-based dialogue mechanisms. Around 78 per cent of all conflicts reported at village level during the project period were resolved without escalation,” says Bekker.
A perception survey done at the end of the project shows that 92 per cent of respondents perceived a reduction in conflict over water, while 74 per cent perceived a reduction in conflict over rangeland and 67 per cent noted a reduction in conflict over land.
The project, which was funded for 39 months and concluded in August 2018, was implemented across five areas in West Darfur, Central Darfur and West Kordofan states. It was implemented in partnership with two national non-governmental organizations: the Darfur Development and Reconstruction Agency and SOS Sahel Sudan.
UN Environment has been providing environmental support to Sudan since the 1990s. In 2007, its country programme was established with an office in Khartoum to address a variety of environmental challenges facing Sudan.
UN Environment has also, in collaboration with the Environmental Law Institute, the Earth Institute at Columbia University, Duke University and the University of California at Irvine, developed a groundbreaking massive open online course on environmental security and sustaining peace.
The next session of the course will commence in February 2019.