The evidence is worryingly conclusive. Climate change is real, and it presents perhaps the single greatest challenge our nation will face over the coming decades.
Research has shown that the last 50 years have been the warmest of the past 400 years. The more pessimistic climatologists out there insist that the mean global temperature will rise by a further 5.8 °C by the end of the 21st century. If realised, this level of warming will have dramatic consequences for future generations of South Sudanese.
South Sudan is more vulnerable than other countries to the impact of climate change. We have neither the infrastructure nor the economic and political sophistication needed to protect our way of life as global temperatures increase.
Here are five ways that climate change will affect our country.
1. Rainfall and flooding
As the world warms, we’ll experience bouts of intense rainfall. Warmer oceans will evaporate more water. And what goes up must come down. Although the idea of more rain may sound like good news, especially for our farmers and herdsmen, the intensity of the rainfall is its danger. There will be more flooding, more soil erosion and less soil infiltration – the process by which water on the surface penetrates into the soil.
2. Poor soil fertility
All this is bad news for the fertility of our fields and grazing lands. Equatoria’s ironstone soil, already prone to leaching (whereby nutrients are washed away) will be further diminished, leaving less productive soil for farming. The current deforestation just makes this more likely. Whilst the alluvial soil of the northern regions will get much saltier, making it less able to absorb water and a more challenging environment for plants to grow.
3. Long cycles of drought
But along with the rain, we’ll also experience more drought. The rainfall will be intense, but it won’t last for long and its arrival will become increasingly unpredictable. There will be less moisture on the land for most of the year. And as the land warms, what water remains will evaporate away leaving dry and parched fields for our farmers and emaciated grasslands for our herders.
4. Civil unrest
The decrease in crop yields will create food insecurity for settled agriculturalists, whilst poorer grazing lands will force pastoral communities to migrate in search of greener pastures. The likelihood of social unrest will be greatly increased as already stressed communities come into conflict over ever scarce resources.
As the rural environment degrades, more South Sudanese will be pulled to the towns and cities. Poorly planned towns and cities increase the likelihood of outbreaks of disease such as cholera and typhoid. There is also a strong correlation between rainfall and high temperatures and the spread of diseases. The warmer it is, the more viruses and parasites there are. And the more rainfall there is, the more breeding grounds there will be for mosquitos. Of course, disease won’t just plague the human inhabitants of South Sudan. Our livestock will be equally exposed to increased risk of infection.
The good news is that we can act now to protect future generations from the bleak outlook described above. But given the scale of the challenge, it needs a real commitment from all sections of our society.
The government last year submitted a new climate action plan to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It is a commendable step in the right direction. In the action plan, the Ministry of Environment acknowledged that “South Sudan is vulnerable to climate change and associated socio-economic losses and damages due to the dependence of its population on climate-sensitive natural resources for their livelihoods.”
In the plan, the government has committed South Sudan to increasing the use of clean energy. That means tackling our reliance on wood as the most common form of household fuel. It also means decommissioning our diesel powered power stations in exchange for solar, wind and hydroelectricity plants – with the Fulla Rapids a prime opportunity.
The government also committed South Sudan to an ambitious plan for reforestation, with a target of 20 million trees planted over a period of ten years. The reforestation would not only help reduce global greenhouse gases, but would also stop precious nutrients being washed away by heavier rainfall.
Finally, the plan committed South Sudan to improve the capacity of its citizens to adapt to climate change, through education, better practices in agriculture, irrigation and animal husbandry as well as developing warning systems and disaster response mechanisms to cope with unpredictable climate events.
It is here that we citizens must also get involved. The government’s plan won’t work unless we support it. Though there are many other challenges facing the nation, we must ensure our government and elected representatives, in national and state legislatures, remain focused on this overarching problem. We need to be vocal and help them to develop it, and we need to be fully involved and engaged in its implementation. We can begin by recognising that if our descendants are to inherit a viable nation, then it must be a nation that is as prepared as it can be for the more difficult environment that they will face.
We are in a race against time to brace our nation against the turbulence of climate change. We can all come together, irrespective of political persuasion, in this noble endeavour to secure a better South Sudan for future generations, today.