Brian shares his adventures in South Sudan

Thursday May 03, 2018

Brian Harding (Global Environments Summer Academy 2013 alum) shares his experience of working with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in South Sudan where he has been contributing to the development of the first large scale Global Environment Facility (GEF) project in the country, with a focus on climate change adaptation. The country is currently deeply affected by the changing climate, but it is only one of multiple priorities as the country seeks stability. Engulfed in civil war since 2013, suffering a shocking macroeconomic crisis caused by the loss of oil revenues and the collapse of the national currency, and presenting a significant refugee and displacement crisis, South Sudan presents a real challenge for environment-related work.

Over the past number of months, I have been working with the United Nations Environment Programme on developing the first large scale Global Environment Facility (GEF) project in South Sudan focusing on climate change adaptation. The country is currently deeply affected by a changing climate, but it is only one of multiple priorities for the country. With an ongoing civil war since 2013, a shocking macroeconomic crisis caused by the loss of oil revenues and the collapse of the national currency and a significant refugee and displacement crisis it can sometimes be hard to know where to start when it comes to implementing environment related work.

Yet, little is known about how climate change is actually affecting the day-to-day lives of people on the ground. From climate observations, we can see there has been a clear change in rainfall patterns, increases in flooding events in some areas and longer dry spells in other parts in the past 30 years. With this added pressures pastoralist communities, the main economic resource of the people of South Sudan, are struggling to maintain their livelihoods.

On a recent visit to South Sudan, I met with a number of communities to discuss with men and women about their lives and how a change in climate is affecting their ability to farm, migrate and provide food for their families.

Let’s be blunt – things are extremely tough for the people of South Sudan. The adaptive capacity to utilize traditional knowledge is deeply affected by multiple stresses, including a changed climate. Women bear the brunt of much of this burden, challenging household food security and adding additional pressures on wood collection for household energy, reducing opportunities for wild food collection and increasing the time needed to collect household water supplies.

As an entry point to seeing some of the issues that we face in doing environment work in South Sudan I present here some photos with brief captions.

There are very few rural roads in South Sudan. South Sudan has a road network over 17,000 km, but only 200 kilometre of paved road[1]. This picture was taken in Aweil in northern South Sudan. These roads can often be impassable during rainy season.

This is not a very exciting picture but it tells a story. On the left you can see a solar panel unit (broken) and on the right is a broken down water pump system. These are examples of poorly thought out development interventions in communities. A waste of money and time.

These projects often fail as they have not fully taken into account, local people’s lives and practices. In south-eastern South Sudan, we visited a homestead of a Topasa woman as she re-thatched the roof of her home. Closeby we saw how traditional grain storage structures were also use for protecting many household items. They are raised to protect them from flood water and to raise them above ground walking pests.

Many men in South Sudan spend time protecting and herding cattle throughout their day. They follow the seasonal rains and the growth of grass, moving along traditional grazing pathways. These movements can sometimes be hundreds of kilometres. These photos show members of the Mundari tribe near Terekeka town in their cattle camp before setting out for the day.

The people of South Sudan are some of the poorest in the world. Climate change adds additional burden on their lives. Over the next number of months, we expect to be completed with our work and we will roll out interventions to support people’s ability to utilize their skills and knowledge to better adapt to these changing climate patterns.

[1] World Bank, 2016. A Triumph Over Long Odds: Building Rural Roads in South Sudan 

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