Climate theories on Sudan

Haitham Nouri , Thursday 17 Sep 2020

Accusing fingers point to climate change as the reason behind Sudan’s devastating floods, but other factors have come into play

Climate  theories  on Sudan

Nile waters in Sudan have begun to drop to after reaching record levels, causing severe damage in several cities, the Water and Irrigation Ministry in Khartoum said Sunday.

Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok tweeted Sudan hasn’t seen similar floods since 1912, instructing state institutions to coordinate efforts to save Sudan from the catastrophic repercussions of the floods.

Heavy rains across large parts of Sudan resulted in floods that killed more than 106 and injured 56 people, according to the civil defence authority. More than half a million Sudanese nationwide were affected by the floods that destroyed and damaged homes and created the perfect environment for water-borne diseases to spread, said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid (OCHA).

Sudan’s Security and Defence Council declared a state of emergency nationwide for three months, designated the country “a natural disaster zone”, and ordered the formation of a committee headed by Minister of Labour Lina Al-Sheikh and comprising “all ministries, states and bodies concerned”.

Sudan’s usual rain season takes place annually between June and October. Water levels in the White Nile rise from spring to May and in the Blue Nile from July to September. This year, the equatorial sources of the River Nile, prime among which is Lake Victoria, shared by Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, witnessed torrential rains that contributed to the increased water level in the White Nile.

Less than two months later, Ethiopia’s Lake Tana, source of the Blue Nile, saw heavy rains, especially in August, increasing the water levels of the Blue Nile to a record 17.67 metres on 7 September.

On Sunday, water levels dropped to 17.36 metres, further decreasing in northern water stations to 15.6 metres in Atbara and 15.22 metres in Dongola.

These water levels confirm statements by Sudanese Minister of Irrigation Yasser Abbas that opening the gates of Egypt’s Aswan High Dam will not improve conditions in Sudan.

Social media users linked Sudan’s floods to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) that is currently under construction, and the Aswan High Dam in Egypt. The allegation was denied by Abbas and ministry officials at a press conference 1 September.

Khartoum is located 350 metres above sea level, the Aswan High Dam 182 metres above sea level, which means that water took its natural course and slid into the High Dam’s reservoir, which didn’t reach its maximum water storage capacity.

The High Dam has a high drainage capacity when its reservoir reaches maximum storage capacity, with each of its gates, Toshka endorheic basin, and the backup canal behind the dam, able to drain 250 million cubic metres of water daily, which proves that opening the gates of the High Dam will not decrease the level of floods in Sudan in any way.

The other claim is that the heavy rains are the result of storing water in the GERD reservoir. The refutation to the claim is that five billion cubic metres of water can’t change the surrounding environment. The High Dam has a storage capacity of 164 billion cubic metres and rainfall seasons and quantities didn’t change to the north nor to the south in north Sudan — two regions known for poor rains.

Other people cited global climate change as the reason for torrential rains in Sudan. The claim is the nearest to the truth, albeit not the only cause. The rising temperature of Earth results in increased evaporation in oceans, including the hot Indian Ocean. Clouds forming in above-average rates, pushed by winds to the east to India and Pakistan, resulted in Sudan’s floods this year, and to the west towards Yemen and East Africa extending from Ethiopian highlands in the north all the way through Sudan to the African Great Lakes in the south, which resulted in the increased water levels of the Blue and White rivers all throughout the year.

This is also the reason for the floods in the Juba and Shebelle rivers in south Ethiopia and Somali and in Yemen, where UNESCO heritage sites were damaged.

Environmental experts, however, believe climate change is not the only reason for the heavy rains the region witnessed in 1946 and 1988 as well. Heavy rains haven’t occurred for more than 30 years and for climate change to be the culprit “the region should see more heavy rain occurrence in the next 30 years,” experts said.

“It is still too early to support the climate change theory. Proving the theory requires more time and similar occurrences,” said Osama Mohamed Ali, a professor of water resources at the University of Khartoum. “It is an exaggerated statement to tie [Sudan’s] heavy rains to climate change. Sudan has suffered dry weather for most of the 1980s before the 1988 flood took place, which left more damage than the current flood,” Ali added.

The dry weather Sudan endured from 1981 to 1987 rendered the country in famine, contributing to the fall of former president Jaafar Numeiri in April 1985.

The drought that followed in the late 1990s compounded the social conditions in Darfur even further, intensifying the conflict between farmers, who depend on rain for their crops, and herders who released their livestock on agricultural lands to be fed.

Complicating the social status in the region was “the Chad war where [former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi] used a large number of tribal youths in Sudan who returned to their dry homeland after their defeat,” Ali said.

“Climate change resulted in fluctuations in the amount of rain in Sudan, further disbanding social systems in Darfur to the west, Kordofan, central west and the east,” he added.

Water storage protocols in west Sudan were negatively affected by rising temperatures, where basins dug to store rain water saw elevated evaporation. Crops also decreased and the quality of the soil deteriorated.

“Small rivers in Sudan were filled with rain water and spilled over to large swaths of land, damaging hundreds of thousands of acres of agricultural land across the country,” stated Ali.

“The worst part is, after the floods are over, more damage can be discovered, such as the destruction of crops,” he said.

Similar heavy rains have occurred in Yemen, Algeria, Somalia, India, China and Japan, and their effects were evident in US west coast states, such as California, Oregon and Washington, where drought resulted in massive fires.

Climate change had a hand in all such disasters, but it is not the only culprit, Ali insisted.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 September, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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