Confronting climate change in South Sudan
The man-made crisis in South Sudan has pushed the country back on multiple fronts, hampering agricultural production, disrupting livelihoods and the coping abilities of communities.
These are but few of several compelling reasons as to why climate change risks in South Sudan should be a pressing worry at this point in time for the policy makers and international partners.
Despite its having no role in contributing to global warming, the country is at once highly vulnerable and least prepared to address looming threats systematically across sectors.
According to the Climate Change Vulnerability Index 2017, South Sudan is ranked amongst the five worst performing in the world alongside the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Haiti and Liberia. Projections indicate that in South Sudan, global warming will be felt 2 ½ times more than the global average
Up to 95 percent of people in South Sudan, or more than 11 million people, depend on climate sensitive sectors, including agriculture, forestry resources and fisheries for their livelihoods. Anecdotally, seasonal streams are beginning to dry up, affecting fishing communities in several parts of the country. Drier weather spells are also likely to be an underlying driver of increased deforestation and resource-based conflicts between the pastoralists and the farming communities over access to grazing land.
As the world gears up to confront the threats posed by climate change and support communities most affected, South Sudan faces a grave risk of being left behind despite being a signatory to the Paris Agreement. Mounting evidence across countries and regions show inaction now can have long term and potentially irreversible consequences. A case in point is the Lake Chad region which in relatively short span of fifty years has shrunk from an area of 25,000 square kilometres to 2,500 square kilometres, affecting nearly 50 million people and turned into a ‘threat multiplier’ by exacerbating tensions and conflicts in the communities that live there.
What is the way forward for South Sudan?
The country needs a bold and ambitious international response, including access to new, adequate and sustained source of climate change finance and clean technology. While a good start, the needs far outstrip the resources available within the Global Environmental Facility and the Green Climate Fund.
Start-up funding and support must target building climate smart agriculture practices, provision of clean energy solutions to set in motion a nation-wide process of transformative adaptation. This would mean promotion of crop diversification, breeding better adapted seeds and livestock, climate sensitive agriculture extension services, and sustainable water management across the country for building self-sufficiency in food and nutrition security.
South Sudan has a historic opportunity to enjoy the latecomer’s advantage by gleaning lessons from other countries. The country has the potential for stand-alone solar photovoltaic (PV) units and possibly for large-scale solar thermal generation since it experiences in average 10 hours of sunshine per day year round. The private sector has a vital role to play and can draw on replicable successes in South Africa and Kenya.
Strengthening domestic preparedness on climate change adaptation, and investing in climate resilient agriculture will be a concrete step towards building resilient communities. The challenges faced in South Sudan call for a new way of working by striking a better balance acting simultaneously on lifesaving, recovery and resilience-building fronts.
A longer version of this article was published in the Sudan Tribune.