Magwi, Eastern Equatoria

The overwhelming majority of South Sudanese use firewood and charcoal as a main source of energy. Both are cheap and readily available. Unless serious action is taken to provide the citizenry with an alternative source of energy, they will continue to use firewood and charcoal to fuel their homes and their industry. The remoteness of most communities makes this a massive challenge.

But the continued overuse of trees for energy and building material comes at a terrible cost and is fast creating a looming catastrophe for the environment and climate of our nation.

Here a five things you need to know about deforestation in South Sudan.

1. Deforestation affects every corner of the country

98 percent of South Sudan’s population use firewood or charcoal as their main source of energy and building material. This presents a significant assault on trees through the length and breadth of the country. Every day, thousands of trees are cut down with little thought of replanting to replace the losses.

2. Deforestation leads to soil erosion

Clearing trees exposes the soil to the blasting effects of the wind. Without the root structure of trees, moisture and nutrients quickly leech away. For laterite soils in the Equatoria region, this poses an especially worrisome problem, as the soil structure is predisposed to the speedy loss of nutrients and fertility. This will have long term implications for crop yields for small scale farmers as well as presenting challenges for larger scale agribusiness without significant investment in costly fertiliser.

3. Deforestation leads to less rainfall

The current lack of rainfall in areas of South Sudan is down to uncontrolled deforestation. In a recent statement, David Taban Silas, Forestry Assistant Commissioner for Central Equatoria’s Yei River County disclosed that mechanised, industrial scale tree clearance is thought to be behind the lack off rain in his county. A 2012 study demonstrated that the reduction in tree cover reduced rainfall in South Sudan during the June to September rainy season by as much as 2 mm.

4. Deforestation is killing biodiversity

Equatoria is part of the Eastern Afro-montane ecosystem, which is rated by scientists as one of Africa‚Äôs biodiversity hotspots. The Equatorian greenbelt is home to an estimated 50% of South Sudan’s plant biodiversity and are expected to hold unique species unknown to science. Unfortunately, it’s all under severe threat. A 2011 study predicts that rich areas such as the forests of the Imatong Mountains could be completely stripped of tree cover by 2020. That’s only 5 years from now!

5. Deforestation in South Sudan affects the whole region

Its not only 8 million South Sudanese who will suffer the consequences of deforestation. Another study has demonstrated that the reduction in rainfall isn’t only having a local affect but extends to neighbouring countries, with sudan bearing the brunt. The weather doesn’t respect national boundaries. South Sudan is therefore unwittingly exporting the negative effects of deforestation to its neighbours in the form of reduced rainfall and possibly droughts.

So, what can be done …

According to forestry authorities, unless the absence of alternative energy sources is addressed, charcoal burning will be impossible to ban.

A recent Ministerial Decree by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has banned tree cutting for collection of firewood. But for a country that is so hopelessly dependent on trees for energy, coupled with the distraction of civil war, enforcement of the decree seems an impossibility. The following comment by a local farmer in Juba County, whose work gang cut down more than 100 trees a week to make 50 sacks of charcoal, sums up the challenge.

“I have six children. I’m trying to survive and feed my children here. There are no jobs. What am I supposed to do?”

Some state and county authorities, such as Yei River, are planning to launch large scale tree planting initiatives to counterbalance the loss in tree cover. These will take years to mature.

Protecting areas of exceptional biodiversity whilst actively promoting the planting of more trees than are being cut down are the only options available to South Sudan in the short to medium term.

So please, go ahead and plant a tree TODAY!