KHARTOUM (AFP) – Conflicts, coups, extreme poverty: Sudan is rocked by multiple crises, but environmental activist Nisreen Elsaim warns a bigger issue overshadows them all: climate change.
A determined climate activist, both at home and on the world stage, for nearly a decade, she speaks passionately about the growing threat that global warming poses to her northeast African nation.
“Climate change must be a priority in Sudan,” said Elsaim, 27, speaking weeks before the start of the COP27 climate conference in neighboring Egypt.
Elsaim – who joined protests that toppled longtime President Omar al-Bashir in 2019 and now advocates a return to civilian rule after a military coup in 2021 – argues that urgent environmental action must be taken. accompanied by political change.
According to a 2020 Global Adaptation Index ranking compiled by Notre Dame University in the United States, Sudan is the fifth most vulnerable country in the world to the impacts of climate change.
“In addition, there has been a noticeable increase in temperature,” Elsaim says of his arid country. “There is no more winter.”
The war-torn nation has been hit hard by erratic weather in recent years – severe droughts and scorching temperatures followed by torrential rains.
Severe flooding that destroyed property, infrastructure and crops has killed more than 145 people this year, according to Sudanese authorities.
Egypt, which borders Sudan to the north, will host the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change from November 6.
For Elsaim, who will be named chair of the UN Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change in 2020, this is an opportunity to sound the alarm about the climate impacts her young country is facing – according to the data, 62% of the 45 million inhabitants of Sudan are UN numbers under 30 years old.
Sudan is already grappling with what experts and activists say is the result of changing weather patterns: escalating conflicts over land and water scarcity.
Growing demand for dwindling natural resources has fueled inter-ethnic conflicts, including the 2003 war that broke out in the arid West Darfur region.
“These conflicts are mainly caused by scarcity,” said Elsaim, who holds a degree in physics and a master’s degree in renewable energy from the University of Khartoum.
“And the reason for this shortage is climate change.”
In Darfur, the war has pitted ethnic African minority rebels against the Arab-dominated government of extremist President Bashir, who responded by unleashing the notorious Janjawid militia.
According to the United Nations, the war in Darfur would kill approximately 300,000 people and leave 2.5 million displaced.
Then-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in the Washington Post in 2007 that “given the multiple social and political causes, the conflict in Darfur began as an ecological crisis at least in part attributable to climate change”.
Linking global warming to conflict is complex: the International Crisis Group calls climate change a “threat multiplier” that “increases food insecurity, water scarcity and competition for resources while destroying the means livelihoods and stimulating migration”.
Organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross note that climate change “aggravates existing social and economic factors that can lead to conflict” while at the same time insecurity “can limit people’s ability to do in the face of climatic shocks.
Sudan also remains plagued by regular protests following the October 2021 military coup led by army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, which upended the post-Bashir transition to civilian rule.
Elsaim says authorities have paid little attention to climate change.
As COP27 approaches, she remains determined to do everything in her power to bring about change – although she admits progress at previous climate summits she has attended has been ‘very limited’.
“Although little progress doesn’t save us,” she said, “it’s still better than nothing.”