UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently named climate change
as one of the primary causes of the current humanitarian crisis in Sudan. Although most commentators focus on the political and ethnic dimensions of the conflict, Ban reminds us that herders (primarily Arabs) and farmers (primarily black Africans) coexisted peacefully until the mid-1980s, when drought struck the region.
Ban believes that peacekeeping is an important first step in alleviating the crisis, and he expressed hope that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir will stand by his recent agreement to allow a joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force into Darfur. However, Ban maintains that a more permanent solution to this conflict must address its underlying environmental factors. As he starkly stated, any lasting solution will have to tackle “the fact that there’s no longer enough good land to go around.” Ban’s piece draws on an Atlantic Monthly article (available to subscribers only) by Stephen Faris. In March, The New Security Beat’s Karin Bencala weighed in on Faris’ article.
Also, a new report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) states that environmental degradation—particularly desertification, deforestation, and overgrazing—has helped contribute to decades of conflict in Sudan. The report predicts that environmental stresses will precipitate future conflicts—particularly in Africa’s Sahel region and in east Asia, as UNEP executive director Achim Steiner said in an interview. The report also echoes Ban’s long-term environmental perspective on restoring peace to Sudan. “Investment in environmental management, financed by the international community and from the country’s emerging boom in oil and gas exports, will be a vital part of the peace building effort,” says UNEP’s press release.
Economic development is a necessary part of any solution in Darfur, but in order to achieve stability, this development must preserve, not deplete, Sudan’s already-overtaxed natural resources. Sudan cannot solve its environmental and resource problems without the help of those countries that likely helped cause them: unless countries with the highest levels of carbon dioxide emissions—the United States and China, among others—do not reduce their carbon footprint, even the most far-sighted Sudanese development strategy will be hard-pressed to succeed.