Environmental degradation of land and resources in Darfur will make it impossible for many of the more than 2m people uprooted by the conflict to return home, the United Nations’ top environment official said on Friday.
Achim Steiner, head of the UN environment programme, said desertification, soil erosion and shrinking rainfall over past decades meant that much of Darfur could not support its previous human and livestock population.
The “sober reality” was that “people cannot simply return to the way they used to do things”, he said at a press briefing to launch Unep’s post-conflict environmental assessment of Sudan.
Andrew Morton, of Unep’s post-conflict and disaster management branch, said Darfur had seen conflicts over water and grazing land for generations, as a growing population competed for declining resources.
While many people had left rural Darfur for the cities, others had moved southwards to areas with higher rainfall, creating tensions with existing communities in those areas.
The report, which covers all areas of the country, warns that Sudan is unlikely to see lasting peace unless it addresses widespread and accelerating environmental deterioration.
Mr Steiner said parts of Sudan, especially in the north where the desert is moving steadily southwards, were facing “ecological collapse”.
However, it was not too late to take action, which could be financed by booming oil and gas revenues.
The report says many of Sudan’s problems are linked to unsustainable farming methods, including an increase in the livestock population from 27m in 1961 to 135m today and rapid deforestation driven by slash-and-burn agriculture and fuel needs. Darfur’s forest cover shrank by a third between 1973 and 2006, according to Unep.
In northern Darfur, the past 80 years have seen a one-third drop in average rainfall, a situation expected to worsen as a result of ongoing climate change.