Sudan: Darfur crisis - Rapid environmental assessment at the Kalma, Otash and Bajoum camps


Darfur Crisis and the Environment

Long-term ethnic conflict in the states of Northern, Southern and Western Darfur along Sudan's western border escalated in 2002-03 into warfare and a humanitarian emergency.1 The results include an estimated 1.6 million internally displaced people (IDPs), effects on 420,000 host community residents,2 deaths from attacks on villages and fighting, and an estimated 200,000 refugees who have fled Darfur to neighboring Chad3. The majority of people forced from their homes are in IDP camps within Darfur, where they remain vulnerable to attacks and often have inadequate access to relief supplies4.

The current, complicated crisis has strong links to environmental and natural resource issues, a fact that must be reflected in humanitarian response and rehabilitation efforts.

For example, competition over land and water between sedentary farmers and nomadic tribes has long been a part of Darfur's history. Environmental degradation, desertification in northern Sudan and the impacts of prolonged droughts exacerbated the situation, however, causing nomadic groups to move further south in search of suitable land and water. This intensified friction with farmers in Darfur's more fertile agricultural belt and contributed to the current crisis. Related factors that compound environmental issues include poverty and underdevelopment5,6.

Environmental impacts are also expected where the movement of large numbers of people is involved. For example, refugee populations can contribute to soil erosion and deforestation. Greater impacts are also expected where background natural resources conditions are poor. In the case of refugees, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recognizes that environmental considerations must be integrated into operations and planning to ensure both environmental quality, and the well being of human populations7.

Joint UNEP/OCHA Environment Unit (Joint Unit) involvement

The Joint Unit is the integrated United Nations mechanism with a mandate to assist countries facing environmental emergencies. Given the close links between environment and the current Darfur crisis, and the fact that environmental considerations should play an important role in relief operations, the Joint Unit supported CARE International in Sudan and the Benfield Hazard Research Centre/Care International in conducting a Rapid Environmental Assessment (REA) in Darfur. The assessment also received support from the US Agency for International Development (USAID), Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, and Norwegian Church Aid in South Darfur.

The objective of this report is to identify environmental issues with immediate relevance to human welfare and response efforts in Darfur, and where possible, offer recommendations that should be considered in response and rehabilitation work.

The report is intended for humanitarian, disaster management, and environmental professionals in international organizations, non-governmental organizations and national governments who are involved in Darfur response measures.

There are three distinct but closely related findings from the assessment:

  • Environmental problems, including water and waste management issues, are emerging in some camps, notwithstanding the availability of solutions.

  • Environmental considerations and available solutions are not consistently integrated into relief efforts, which undermines their effectiveness.

  • A relief assistance gap forces IDPs to deplete natural resources to survive, with significant humanitarian and environmental consequences.

The report recommends measures to reduce environmental impacts of the Darfur crisis, thereby improving the lives and welfare of IDP camp residents. Recommendations are in four main areas: improving safety and sustainability of natural resource collection, integrating environment into programs and activities, enhancing capacity for environmental activities, and addressing issues linked to returning IDPs.


1 Sudan: A Future Without War? IRIN Web Special on the prospects of peace in Sudan.

2 Darfur Humanitarian Profile No. 7 at

3 IRIN West Africa Weekly, 23-29 October 2004.

4 Sudan: Now or Never In Darfur. International Crisis Group, 23 May 2004 at'65

5 Darfur Rising: Sudan's New Crisis. International Crisis Group Africa Report no. 76, March 25 2004.

6 Sudan: A Future Without War? IRIN Web Special on the prospects of peace in Sudan.

(pdf* format - 424 KB)


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