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UN Program Finds Environment Degradation Triggers Conflict in Sudan


The U.N. Environment Program says environmental degradation is triggering tensions and conflict in Sudan. A new study foresees no long lasting peace in Sudan unless widespread and rapidly accelerating environmental deterioration is urgently addressed. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva where the UNEP study was launched.

The new assessment of the environmental situation in Sudan includes the troubled region of Darfur. The study cites the rapidly eroding environment in key parts of the country as being among the root causes of decades of social strife and conflict.

The executive director of the U.N. Environment Program, Achim Steiner, says there is an inescapable linkage between environmental degradation and worsening economic and social conditions.

"Conflicts ultimately become inevitable if systems become so pressurized and social, economic, and institutional systems are not able to adapt," Steiner says. "This report is perhaps one of the most stark examples we have found yet in terms of linking environmental change to essentially crisis situations arising in the social and economic sphere."

The environmental experts express concern about land degradation, desertification and the spread of deserts southwards by an average of 100 kilometers over the past four decades.

They note that deforestation has led to a loss of almost 12 percent of Sudan's tree cover in just 15 years, and they warn some areas may lose all their forest cover within the next decade.

The report finds mounting evidence of long-term regional climate change in several parts of the country. For example, in northern Darfur, precipitation has fallen by a third in the past 80 years. And declining rainfall has led to reduced food production.

Project Manager of the UNEP Study, Andrew Morton, says desertification, climate change and other forms of environmental degradation are linked to chronic rural poverty, to population displacement and to local conflict.

"This problem is particularly severe in dry land Sudan, which is essentially the northern half of Sudan," noted Morton. "This is a long-term massive and complex problem, which has been evolving over the last 60 years or more. It is on a scale where if it is not tackled, it could actually reverse the development gains and lead us back into a cycle of sort of enduring crisis with aid dependency and unable to come out of the problems."

Five million people are either internally displaced or refugees in Sudan. About half of them are in Darfur. UNEP says large numbers of homeless people in camps further undermine the environment by cutting down trees for firewood.

The report says investment in environmental management will be a vital part of peace building in Sudan. Rehabilitation projects will cost about $120 million over three to five years. UNEP says the money can come from the international community and from the country's emerging boom in oil and gas exports.

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