Natural resources, co-dependence and peace in Sudan
When water is scarce, it becomes a precious commodity and a frequent source of tension and conflict between communities and tribes – all relying on what little water is available for their livelihoods.
In Sudan, a country with less than 18 days of rain per year, access to water resources and healthy pasture is especially vital to the survival of rural pastoralist tribes, for whom herding camels and sheep is a common livelihood providing them with milk, meat, and income.
Every year, as the water dries up in Gebaish, in the southern part of the country, nomadic families migrate along Sudan’s ‘central livestock corridor', to the Al-Habeel area, a rainy season grazing area where pastoralist herders come to use the pasturelands, usually between June and August.
The seasonal migration of pastoralists and access to fresh pastures involves relationships based on reciprocity that go back for decades. For people like Hamdan – one of the pastoralists from the Hamar tribe in Gebaish who makes the 120 km trek to Al-Habeel every year – seasonal migration is a way of life. "Our fathers and their fathers brought their herds here as well,” Hamdan said. “The villagers in Al-Habeel share with us their water and grazing sources."
The Hamar tribe sends a representative ahead of the annual seasonal migration to assess the route, reach agreements with resident tribes, and ensure that the routes do not encroach on farm and agricultural land. It is a crucial step in avoiding conflict.
However, the system is a fragile one.
When the storage tank and water pump (fed by a permanent, natural underground source) in Al-Habeel fell into disrepair, villagers had to travel over 25km to the nearest water points. It also meant that the pastoralists had to venture even further south towards the border of South Sudan, where they had no historical links or traditional agreements.
To reduce competition for water sources in the area, avoid overgrazing on already strained pastures and prevent conflict over natural resources, it has been vital to improve access to water inside the central corridor, such as rehabilitating the water yard in Al-Habeel village.
Funded by the European Union’s Instrument Contributing to Stability and Peace, UN Environment is working with SOS Sahel, a national non-governmental organization, to support the Al-Habeel community and migrant herders like Hamdan.
The project is currently demarcating migratory routes along the central corridor and reseeding grazing areas near Al-Habeel to support the pastoralists and avoid competition near agricultural farmland. It is rehabilitating and maintaining water yards, installing pumps and renovating dams.
Importantly, the project is also bringing together community leaders from different villages and migrant pastoralists to discuss and plan how to share local water resources fairly.
"Before the water yard was rehabilitated, the villagers in Al-Habeel had to travel all the way to Babanusa town to access water,” Saad Ahmed Mahamoud, secretary of the Al-Habeel village committee said.
Established by the project, the committee ensures the water yard is maintained and water is shared between the different communities.
“We can also share the water with the Hamar people,” Saad Ahmed continued. “We talked together about sharing the water and the pastures, and we have reached an agreement that means everyone has what they need."