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10.1 Introduction

Sudan’s current and future development is largely dependent on its rich and diverse natural capital. The country’s 1.88 million km2 (Sudan National Survey Authority 2018) provides abundant arable land, rangelands, freshwater resources and minerals. Sudan population is estimated to be 44.4 million in 2020 as projected from the 2008 census (Central Bureau for Statistics 2018) of different cultures and with many different sources of livelihood.

Despite these resources, Sudan continues to suffer from multiple economic, political, social and environmental crises, including violent conflicts, political instability, poverty and economic underdevelopment, natural resource depletion and environmental degradation. These crises are caused by a mix of human and natural dynamics such as weak governance, high population growth, drought, desertification, deforestation, land degradation and climate change and variability.

Sudan’s future development path will be determined by a number of key drivers. Foremost among these are its population dynamics. Sudan’s population is projected to increase to 57.3 million by 2030, with a growth rate averaging 2.4 per cent per year (Central Bureau of Statistic 2018). The resulting rise in demand for food, water, housing and other services, as well as a projected increase in the number of people migrating from rural areas to cities, could put more pressure on natural resources and lead to significant environmental change.

Given its location in arid and semi-arid zones, Sudan is likely to be seriously affected by climate change. Preserving its water reserves and other natural resources will be crucial. However, achieving sustainable development will be difficult unless the country resolves its violent conflicts and settles long-running disputes over land tenure. Much will depend on the country’s economic growth, per capita incomes, export earnings from the extraction of natural resources, and the agricultural sector, which accounts for around 40 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (Central Bureau of Statistic 2018).

10.2 Imagining the Future

A key conclusion of the previous chapters is that Sudan’s current development path is likely to have far-reaching negative consequences not only for the state of its environment but also for its economic development. This final chapter explores policy options for a sustainable and peaceful future for Sudan. It focuses on two scenarios: “Business as Usual”; and “Bending the Curve”, which represents an alternative pathway towards sustainable development.

Scenario building is a way to investigate the unpredictability of future developments, and can be used to device robust policy options. Scenarios are plausible and often simplified descriptions of how the future may develop, based on a coherent and internally consistent set of assumptions about key driving forces and relationships (Henrichs 2009, Mugabe et al, 2010). As demonstrated in Figure 10.1, scenarios are not facts; neither are they predictions, forecasts, projections, explorations or speculations. They are descriptions about how the future might unfold. Scenarios are somewhere between projections, which are closer to the facts, and explorations, which are of higher uncertainty and complexity.

Figure 10.1: Situating scenarios within complexity and uncertainty (Henrichs 2009)

Theorists, policy-makers and decision-makers constantly have to look to the future. As depicted in Figure 10.2, looking into the future involves three key sources of uncertainty: (i) ignorance of our scientific understanding; (ii) inherent unpredictability because unexpected events are bound to alter the future; and (iii) future human choices. page7image1740672


Ignorance: Our scientific understanding is incomplete

:‘known unknowns’ & ‘unknown unknowns’

Surprise: Unexpected events bound to alter future :Inherent unpredictability

Volition: Future human choices matter

Figure10.2: Key sources of future uncertainty and complexity (Henrichs 2009)

One of the challenges of imagining a future scenario is to identify the key forces likely to drive change. These forces are the main factors that will influence the way a system develops, as depicted in Figure 10.3.

General Scenario dynamics


Figure 10.3: General scenario dynamics of an environmental system (UNEP 2006)

Driving forces tend to be demographic, policy, economic, social-cultural, political, legal, technological and environmental factors (Henrichs 2009). These and other factors combine together to produce a future scenario (Figure 10.4). Scenarios are always specific to their context. The critical question for the purposes of this report is what are the most relevant scenarios for Sudan?

Figure 10.4: Scenario building and its integrated components ( Swart 2009)

10.3 Drivers of Change in Sudan

Many factors drive environmental change in Sudan. The key ones include demographic dynamics, economic development and growth, climate change and variability, technology and innovation, urbanization, and governance and institutional arrangements.

10.3.1 Demographic dynamics

Human population is the most important driving factor of environmental change. With a projected population of 44.4 million and an average population density of 23 people per km2, Sudan is considered sparsely populated. In reality the population density tends to follow the distribution of key resources such as water, arable land and urban settlements. The country’s highest population density is in central Sudan along the River Nile and the lowest is in the desert and semi-desert areas of northern Sudan (Central Bureau of Statistic 2018). 36 per cent of the population lives in urban areas. 41 per cent is under the age of 15, 20 per cent is between 15 and 24 years old, 31 per cent is between 25 and 54 years old, less than 4 per cent is between 55 and 64 years old, while only 3.3 per cent is over 65 years old (World Population Review 2018). This makes Sudan’s population relatively young.

A long history of adverse climate and the recurring violent conflicts in Sudan, South Sudan and neighbouring countries have resulted in a sizeable population of internally displaced persons, foreign refugees and returnees (Sudanese who have returned to the country but have no home). In 2018, the International Organization of Migration reported that there are approximately 2.2 million internally displaced persons, 695,000 refugees from neighbouring countries and 105,000 returnees across Sudan (International Organization for Migration 2018). 390,000 Sudanese refugees live in camps or urban settings in neighbouring countries, in particular Egypt, Chad, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia. There are also between 1.2 and 1.7 million Sudanese economic migrants living mostly in the Gulf States, Europe, North America and neighbouring African countries (International Oorganization for Migration 2011), who contribute substantially to the country’s economic development through financial remittances.

The country’s population is projected to reach 57.3 million by 2030 (Central Bureau of Statistics 2018). This will likely have significant implications for the country’s natural resources.

10.3.2 Economic development

The Sudanese economy is largely agrarian, with crops and livestock the main pillars of economic activity and livelihoods. Extraction of different types of natural resources, especially minerals, is also key to the economy. The manufacturing sector is underdeveloped, contributing just 2.9 per cent to GDP, while the services sector contributes 57.8 per cent (Central Intelligence Agency 2019). Agriculture and livestock contribute 35 to 40 per cent to GDP (World Bank 2018b) and employ about 80 per cent of the work force. Agriculture could contribute significantly more with sound economic development policies, more investment and better governance.

Although Sudan has a rich diversity of natural resources, it has tended to exploit only one resource at any one time. From the 1950s to the 1980s, cotton was the single main source of export revenues. After the discovery of oil in the mid-1990s, the Sudanese economy shifted its dependency to oil revenues, which accounted for over half of the government’s total revenues and 95 per cent of its exports.

The secession of South Sudan in 2011 caused Sudan to lose three-quarters of its oil revenue, which resulted severe and multiple economic shocks (International Monetary Fund 2017). The annual change in percent of the economic growth rate as real Growth Domestic Product, was 0.7 per cent, -2.3 per cent and -2.5 per cent for the years 2017, 208 and 2019, respectively; and it is likely to remain negative in the near term (International Monetary Fund 2020). The country’s trade figures took a similar hit: Sudan has been recording a trade deficit since 2012, and the 2018 deficit was US$217,566 (International Monetary Fund 2020). The secession also affected inflation. The annual rate of inflation increased from 18 per cent in 2011 to 32.6 per cent in 2017, and then sharply to 57.5 per cent in 2018 (Central Bureau of Statistics 2018).

Two years after the secession of South Sudan, the country’s economy was further impacted by the conflict in South Sudan between government forces and rebel factions in 2013. The conflict led to the shutdown of most oil fields in South Sudan. The situation was made worse by the decline in international oil prices; the United States of America’s economic sanctions on Sudan, which were lifted in October 2017; and ongoing conflicts in Southern Kordofan, Darfur and Blue Nile States. The weak economy, compounded by a lack of basic infrastructure and reliance by much of the population on subsistence agriculture, resulted in an increase in poverty levels in Sudan. 46.5 per cent of the population is living below the poverty line (Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning 2016) while 25.2 per cent is below the extreme poverty line, according to a survey by the African Development Bank (African Development Bank 2018).


Despite attempts by the government to increase the development of non-oil sources of revenues such as gold mining and agriculture, Sudan’s economy continues to decline or stagnate. One problem is that since as far back as independence, economic development and resources have been concentrated on the more developed regions in central and northern Sudan at the expense of underdeveloped regions in the western, southern and eastern parts. One study revealed that 51 per cent of the country’s total development expenditure in 2012/2013 was allocated to Khartoum State, while only 0.2 per cent and 0.7 per cent went to the peripheral states of Blue Nile and West Darfur (Al Naeem 2015). As a result of this biased policy, most rural regions remote from the centre remain underdeveloped despite being rich in natural resources and having sizeable and productive populations.

Rural regions also suffer most from poverty with 57.5 per cent of the rural population lives below the extreme poverty line, compared with 26.6 per cent of the urban population (African Development Bank 2017). Urban communities now account for 36 per cent of Sudan’s population, so addressing urban poverty is essential.

Many of Sudan’s economic problems, as well as social disruption, increasing poverty rates and political instability, can be ascribed to a large extent to the failure to fully exploit natural resources, as well as to sharp regional and social disparities in development opportunities. The result is that Sudan continues to rank far down the United Nations Human Development Index, 167 out of 189 countries (UN Development Programme 2018).

10.3.3 Climate change and variability

Long-term climate change and short-term climate variability are the greatest development challenges of our time. Over the last century, Sudan, as part of the Sahelian zone, has experienced long alternating periods of wet and dry seasons: the 1910s were dry, the 1920s to the 1950s were wet, and it has been relatively dry, save a few wet years, since the mid-1960s (Trilsbach and Hulme 1984, van Arsdale 1989, UNEP 2007, Komey 2012). Lately Sudan has been experiencing frequent droughts, rising temperatures and low rainfall, and as a result water scarcity during dry seasons is becoming an increasing concern. The longer-term impacts of climate change include agricultural failures and a reduction in productivity, famine and food insecurity, degradation of fertile land, desertification, deterioration of natural resources and the associated negative effects on trade, market prices, migration and conflicts.

The boundary between semi-desert and desert has shifted an estimated 50 to 200 km southwards since rainfall and vegetation records were first made in the 1930s, a trend that is expected to continue due to the steady decline in rainfall (Hulme 1990, Komey 2012). Although climate change could affect hydroelectric power and solar energy production, these sustainable energy sources could also be used to lessen the impact of climate change.

Despite the significant threat Sudan faces from climate change, the government has paid it little attention in its plans for economic development and natural resource governance. One example of that is the failure over the past two decades to maintain the country’s meteorological records, which have been published since the 1950s. Effective resource management requires timely and accurate information about the state of natural resources, yet both the number of recording stations and the quality of data have deteriorated due to institutional failure and the impact of conflicts (Komey 2012).

10.3.4 Urbanization

Sudan is one of the fastest urbanizing countries in the world. The population of the capital, Khartoum, grew from just 250 000 on the eve of independence in 1956 to an estimated 2.8 million in 1993, when the census estimated Sudan to be 25 per cent urbanized. Khartoum State has an estimated population of 5.5 million people in 2018 (World’s Capital Cities 2019), while Map Index estimates the population projection to around 8 million people for the same year (Map Index 2019).

Today, 36 per cent of Sudanese live in cities (UN Human Development Report 2018). Uncontrolled urbanization increases demand for resources and creates pollution that affects people’s health and quality of life.

10.3.5 Governance

The World Bank defines governance as the exercise of political authority and the legal use of institutional resources to manage society’s problems and affairs. Good governance requires the proper functioning of government institutions with the ability to create and implement sound policies, laws, rules, regulations and customs within the overarching governance principles, such as participation, transparency and social accountability and tackles corruption. (United Nations Development Programme Oslo Governance Centre 2010). Governance involves not just the state, but community organizations, civil society groups, the private sector, the business community and international institutions (Nyariki et al, 2010).

As it stands, Sudan’s performance in environmental governance is unlikely to lead to sustainable development. The country’s institutions, laws, policies and regulations on environment and natural resource management suffer from a number of problems. Foremost among these are:

  1. Lack of a comprehensive national natural resource governance framework;
  2. Lack of a national land use strategy;
  3. Institutional instability and weak enforcement of policies and law;
  4. Contradictions and overlapping of laws, institutions and policies; and
  5. Lack of political will and commitment to enforce environmental laws.

This section will now deal with each of these in turn.

Lack of a comprehensive national natural resource governance framework. Sudan has never produced a comprehensive governance framework guiding the use of its natural resources. Instead, each sector – agriculture, animal resources, mining, water, forestry, and so on – has its own policies for natural resource management. These policies impact natural resources in different ways, and there is no overall vision.

Lack of a national land use strategy. As with natural resources, there is no overarching strategy governing the use of land in Sudan. As a result, competing ministries and institutions, in collaboration with different United Nations agencies such as UNDP, UNEP, IFAD and FAO, allocate and use land in their own ways, and the country’s land use strategy is fragmented. For example, the following policies and laws each have their own vision for how land should be used: the National Plan for Development and Utilization of Water Resources 2014, the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plans of 2000 and 2015, the Sudan National Forest Policy of 2006, the Rangeland Act 2015, and the Agricultural Land Use Investment Law 2015.

Institutional instability and weak enforcement of policies and law. The institutions responsible for managing Sudan’s environment and natural resources are generally weak and ineffective. An example of this is the failure to enforce the rule laid down in the Forest Act that five per cent of irrigated schemes and ten per cent of mechanized rain-fed schemes should be planted with tree belts. Similarly, the deforestation that is happening in many parts of the country is partly due to the inability of state forestry departments to police the forests and enforce the law.

One of the problems has been the political fluidity and instability in Sudan which has meant constant change in government institutions at federal, state and locality levels. For three decades, natural resources and environmental issues have oscillated between different ministries, which has made it difficult to implement any long-term strategies or policies. The decision in September 2018 to abolish the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Physical Development and demote the environment and natural resource portfolio from ministerial to council level for the first time since 1994 does not bode well, for it indicates that this sector is no longer top priority for the government. Furthermore, this change is likely to impede Sudan’s efforts to attain the goals set out in the United Nations’ Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development.

Contradictions and overlapping of laws, institutions and policies. Sudan has passed numerous laws in its efforts to achieve sustainable management and exploitation of its natural resources (see Chapter 2, and Chapter 9 appendix 1). These include the Environmental Conservation Act 2001, the Mineral Resources and Mining Act 2015, the Law of Forests and Renewable Natural Resources 2002, the Range and Pasture Law 2015, the National Parks and Protected Areas Act 1986, and the Investment Act 2013, to name just a few. However, because of the lack of an overarching environmental policy framework, many of these laws overlap or contradict each other, or contradict other national laws and policies.

For example, the rapid growth of artisanal gold mining in Sudan is undermining most of those laws, including the Mining Wealth Law 2007. Although gold mining is an extremely important source of national revenue, current mining practices are having a catastrophic impact on the environment and natural resources. As well as altering the shape of the landscape and polluting ecosystems with chemicals like mercury and cyanide, artisanal gold mining has penetrated protected reserves, undermining the National Parks and Protected Areas Act 1986. The Songo artisanal gold mine inside Radom National Reserve Park in South Darfur is an illustration of this.

Another case where an economic activity is undermining the sustainable use of natural resources is the expansion of mechanized rain-fed farming schemes. These have resulted in deforestation and degraded soil, which contradicts the Law of Forests and Renewable Natural Resources 2002. In 2012, Gedaref State passed the “Prevention of Agriculture North of 110 45’ law, which is designed to prevent the spread of mechanized farming schemes beyond longitude 110 45’ N where traditional rain-fed farming and livestock grazing better suit the lighter soil and lower rainfall. Despite this law, mechanized farming is still practised there.

Lack of political will and commitment to enforce environmental laws. Behind the weak enforcement and poor implementation of environmental laws lies a lack of political will. One sign of this is the government’s willingness to allow foreign investors to acquire land in Sudan for agribusiness (Cotula et al, 2009, Centre for Human Rights and Global Justice 2010, and Deng 2011). A study by the World Bank found that from 2004 to 2009, Sudan transferred nearly four million hectares to foreign companies investing in agribusiness, the highest figure among all the countries it looked at (World Bank 2010). Another study, which investigated 102 cases of land grabbing in 21 countries in Africa and Asia, revealed that more of these cases took place in Sudan (20 cases) than anywhere else (GRAIN 2011). More recent data shows that Sudan has allocated about 1.3 million hectares to twelve global investors (GRAIN 2016).

It appears that the Sudanese government is not adhering to some of the key principles for responsible agro-investments outlined by the World Bank in its 2010 report on this issue (World Bank 2010), including the following:

  • Recognizing and respecting the existing rights to land and associated natural resources;
  • Ensuring transparency, good governance and accountability of all stakeholders within a proper legal system;
  • Investors are to ensure that projects respect role of law, reflect best practices and are economically viable with durable shared value;
  • Investors adhere to corporate social responsibility that generates desirable social and distributional impact and does not increase vulnerability; and
  • Investment must be sensitive to environmental sustainability.


Without proper arrangements that ensure the sustainable use of natural resources, these agri-business investments are likely to have negative implications for Sudan’s environment.

10.4 Future Scenarios

This section considers two possible scenarios for a future Sudan. The first scenario – Business as Usual – considers what might happen if the country continued on its current development path. The second scenario – Bending the Curve – envisages a change of direction towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDSs) and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In each case, we reflect on the themes explored at length in the previous chapters – atmosphere, land, water, biodiversity, persistent environmental issues and emerging environmental issues – as well as the likelihood of Sudan achieving the goals of the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development.

10.4.1 Business as Usual scenario

Atmosphere. Air pollution has recently become an issue of great concern in Sudan. The country has many laws on environmental pollution – the Environmental Health Act 2009, the Labour Act 1997, the Pesticides and Pest Control Products Act 1994, the Environment Protection Act 2001, among others – yet none of them contains standards for air quality. With urbanization, industry and transport systems set to grow, air pollution is likely to get worse, particularly with weak institutions, ineffective policies and the lack of law enforcement.

Sudan has been experiencing the effects of climate change for some time, including increasing temperatures, rainfall variability, droughts and floods. Average temperatures are projected to increase by up to 3°C by 2050, rainfall is projected to decrease by 4 per cent per decade, and Sudan will experience increased frequency of both droughts and floods (United States Agency for International Development 2016). Figure 10.5 summarizes the potential effects of the major climate stressors, including drought, rainfall variability, floods, temperature increases, seawater temperature increases and sea level rise on natural resources and communities in Sudan.

In a country where agriculture is a major contributor to GDP and people’s livelihoods, and where 93 per cent of cultivated land is rain-fed, the impact of climate change is critical to future development paths. Climate change increases the vulnerability of certain communities, such as poor farmers, pastoralists and others that rely on rain-fed agriculture. Without policies that help them adapt, it will be extremely difficult for Sudan to attain the goals of Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development.

A close up of a restaurant Description automatically generated

Figure 10.5: Climate stressors and their potential impact on sectors, areas and communities. (Modified from Siddig et al. 2018)

Land. Disputes over land tenure and rights of ownership, access and use of land have been at the heart of many conflicts in Sudan. The problems are partly due to the country having two land tenure arrangements: a statutory system, based on civil laws and institutions, and a customary system, which derives from tribal territorial rights. The two systems have never been integrated, which has created a confused legislative environment. The result is recurring tensions, violent conflict and civil war.

Urban settlement, agriculture, livestock, industry and mining all require land. Demand for land increases with economic development and population growth. With the secession of South Sudan in 2011, the country lost 24.7 per cent of its land area (Sudan National Survey Authority 2018). Under the business as usual scenario, Sudan’s population will continue to grow at 2.8 per cent per year, increasing from the estimated 44.4 million in 2020 to 57.3 million in 2030 (Central Bureau of Statistic 2018).

At the same time, Sudan’s agricultural productivity is decreasing. In the 2017-2018 seasons, the country recorded the lowest sorghum yield in Africa: 225 kg per feddan compared with 2 142.86 kg per feddan in Egypt, 837.78 kg per feddan in Ethiopia, 489.72 kg per feddan in Nigeria, 416 kg per feddan in Mali and 400 kg per feddan in Burkina Faso (USA Agricultural Department 2018)[1]. As the population grows and productivity goes down and the country loses more land to degradation, the amount of food produced per capita will decrease, particularly without more appropriate farming technologies and management systems. Worse, farmers will be forced to encroach onto fragile and marginal ecosystems, further diminishing productivity and accelerating environmental deterioration.

Despite some attempts towards land reform, little has been achieved. For example, the Interim Constitution of 2005 called for the establishment of land commissions at federal and state levels, but this has not happened because of a lack of commitment by the federal government. Only Darfur Land Commission was formed based on Darfur Peace Agreement in 2006. It seems clear that under current policies and without effective land reforms, Sudan will not meet its global and national goals for food security, poverty and zero hunger under the SDGs, and peace and political stability will remain out of reach.

Water Resources. Despite substantial water resources such as rivers, seasonal streams, lakes and aquifers, Sudan is classified as a water-scarce country. This is due to several factors, including its failure to use its water resources effectively, limited water harvesting, a decreasing storage capacity in its reservoirs due to siltation and the accumulation of debris, pollution, unregulated economic development, poor water governance and climate change. The demand for water is rising in many sectors including domestic consumption, agriculture, industry and hydropower, and is bound to increase more rapidly as urbanization and rural development grow. The country’s per capita water availability is estimated around 700 m3/person/year based on the 2020 projected population of 44.4 million and the Falkenmark Indicator (White, 2012), which is significantly below the “water stress margin” of 1000 m3 per capita.

The scarcity of water presents many challenges. As Chapter 5 demonstrates, only 58.7 per cent of people in Sudan have access to safe drinking water (69.4 per cent in urban areas, 51.6 per cent in rural areas), while 40 per cent of basic schools suffer water shortages. Water scarcity threatens food security and energy generation. In rural areas away from the Nile, lack of access to safe water is hindering socio-economic development and environmental conservation. It also causes conflict between pastoralists and farmers that can escalate to a serious level, as demonstrated in Darfur.

One of the policy solutions to the water problem in Sudan is the “Zero attash or thirst” programme, which began in 2016 and aims to ensure that everyone in rural parts of the country is within 500 metres of a reliable water supply by the year 2020. However, it had not yet materialized and its activities are almost on halt following the popular political movement that ended the previous regime in 2019. Under the business as usual scenario, Sudan’s water stress condition is expected to become more acute and is likely to impede its progress towards meeting the SDGs, 14 of which are related to water in one way or another.

Biodiversity. After years of desertification and cycles of droughts, many biodiversity-rich areas in Sudan are under threat, with an unknown number of flora and fauna species disappearing. Many activities related to economic development, such as overgrazing, overcultivation, mechanized farming and artisanal gold mining, have had far-reaching negative impacts on biodiversity.

Deforestation due to mechanized farming is rife in Gedaref, Blue Nile, Sennar, South Kordofan and South Darfur states. Sudan’s forest area declined steadily from more than 40 per cent of the country’s area in the 1950s to 27 per cent at the beginning of the millennium, before declining further to 10.3 per cent in 2015 due to agricultural expansion and the rising demand for wood for energy and construction. The loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services as a result of deforestation affects people’s health, livelihoods and food security. It also threatens the country’s future sustainable development.

Persistent Issues. The most serious persistent environmental problems in Sudan are desertification, pollution from pesticides, and various types of waste (solid, plastic, medical, industrial and wastewater).

Despite the government’s efforts to combat desertification, the problem is getting worse at the expense of farming and grazing land, fertile soil, vegetation cover and water sources. Over the last two decades, desertification has been accelerating (Laki 2009). Recently, the Secretary-General of the National Council for Combating Desertification warned that the Sahara Desert was advancing by as much as 10 per cent (Alshrooq Network 2019). Without new policies, further deterioration is inevitable.

Pesticides are used in almost all major agricultural schemes in Sudan. Despite their usefulness, pesticides have caused great harm to the environment due to poor quality control and the lack of controls on their transportation, storage and use. Stored pesticides regularly leak into the environment because of deteriorating storage facilities, with serious effects on human health and air and water quality. Given the ineffectiveness of current policies and the lack of institutional control, pesticides will continue to be a threat to Sudan’s environment.

Due to population growth and changing production and consumption patterns, the quantity of all types of waste produced in Sudan is on the increase. Sudan suffers from limited waste disposal facilities, weak enforcement of laws, and a lack of institutional capacity to deal with solid waste. Sanitation, sewage and wastewater facilities are lagging behind the growth of settlements. This is likely to have an increasing impact on the environment, particularly in the Greater Khartoum area and other urban centres. If the situation prevails, it will be difficult to achieve SDGs in the areas of good health, clean water and sanitation, sustainable cities and communities, life below water and life on land.

Emerging Issues. Artisanal gold mining is becoming a key driver in Sudan’s economy. It is encouraged by the government as a way of filling the drop-in oil revenues that followed the secession of South Sudan. Despite the economic gains, the sector is poorly organized and regulated and as a result it is having a far-reaching impact on Sudan’s environment, human health and local livelihoods. The lack of control has resulted in increased competition over land, the proliferation of community-based conflicts, land degradation, the loss of agricultural and pastoral land to mining, disturbance of the ecosystem, and pollution of water, air, soil and rangelands.

Artisanal gold miners are exposed to numerous health and safety hazards, largely due to the use of mercury in the leaching and washing process. Mercury is poisonous to humans and other species: chronic exposure damages the neurological system causing sensory, motor and cognitive disorders. There are no training or public awareness campaigns to promote a more responsible use of mercury. Furthermore, millers and crushers at the mining sites are at risk of inhaling siliceous dust particles which leads to respiratory problems and diseases. Mine workers often have to drink polluted water. Nearby surface and ground waters are threatened by pollution with mercury and cyanide acid drainage (El Tohami 2018). The goals and targets under Agenda 2030 can hardly be achieved under such conditions.

10.4.2 Bending the Curve scenario

Atmosphere. Sudan’s policies to combat air pollution and climate change, such as the National Adaptation Programme of Action and the National Adaptation Plan, are inadequate to address the major issues of increasing temperatures, rainfall variability, drought and crop failure. To effectively respond to climate change and atmospheric and air pollution, the government should adopt policies that address the following issues:

  • A management system for water resources that delivers safe drinking water while enhancing agricultural productivity;
  • Guaranteed food security for both human and animals;
  • A national land use plan that guides all development;
  • The appropriate use of natural resources;
  • The closing of any gaps in legislation related to environmental protection and natural resource governance; and
  • A national early warning system to ensure timely and appropriate responses to climate change.

Under this new policy scenario, Sudan would accelerate investments in clean energy, reduce indoor air pollution caused by the use of biomass fuels, mitigate the impacts of climate change by meeting its current target for planting tree belts, and improve water use efficiency in food production.


Land. Alternative policies on land tenure, ownership and access rights are badly needed. In the Bending the Curve scenario, the government would harmonize the country’s two land tenure systems and carry out the commitment laid out in the Interim Constitution of 2005 to establish land commissions at federal and state levels. It would also enable the registration of all unregistered land in Sudan and give no legal recognition to those with land rights under the traditional customary system, including the ability to access agricultural funding from banks. A restitution law that allowed refugees and internally displaced persons to return to their land in conflict-affected regions would help Sudan meet its targets for ensuring peace and political stability under the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development.

Water Resources. Under the Bending the Curve policy scenario, Sudan would introduce integrated water resources management (IWRM) to coordinate the management of water and other resources and ensure that the country’s abundant supplies of water are made available to those who need them. Water harvesting techniques would be enhanced and scaled up. Managed like this, water resources would play a key role in boosting the economy and improving the quality of life of the population people.

To achieve this, the government would carry out the following actions:

  • Assessment of the “Zero attash or thirst” programme to identify and correct the policies and institutional weaknesses that have held back this initiative;
  • Review all laws, institutions and enforcement mechanisms related to water resource management; and
  • Introduce a new national water policy that would bring water resources under one institution instead of its current fragmentation among different ministries and departments.

With the new suite of policies, Sudan would achieve its targets under the SDGs, including those for safe drinking water, sanitation and food security. It would also benefit from stronger regional cooperation through the Nile Basin Initiative, resulting in a more transparent and equitable distribution of water from the Nile River.

Biodiversity. Much of Sudan’s rich and diverse biodiversity has been affected by civil war, climate change, drought, overgrazing, the imprudent use of natural resources, the expansion of mono-crop agriculture at the expense of natural forests, poaching and wildlife smuggling. More effective national policies are needed to ensure that institutions at all levels prioritize biodiversity when implementing the country’s development plans in coordination with the country’s National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan. Expanding the area of land and water under protection would ensure that Sudan achieved its targets under the Convention on Biological Diversity.


Persistent Issues. The following alternative national policies are needed to deal with Sudan’s major persistent environmental problems of desertification, pesticides and waste:

  • Strengthen the institutions responsible for dealing with persistent issues and improve their technical and financial resources;
  • A national legal framework, backed by a strong monitoring system and law enforcement mechanisms, to ensure compliance over the management of persistent issues; and
  • A mechanism to ensure that the management of persistent problems are integrate into national development plans.

With the right policies in place, Sudan should be able to slow down the southwards advancement of the Sahara Desert, rehabilitate all areas contaminated with persistent organic pollutants, and stop the import of all banned pesticides.

Emerging Issues. To address major emerging environmental issues such as artisanal gold mining, the following alternative policies are suggested:

  • Put in place well equipped institutions with the capacity to enforce laws and policies relating to oil and gold mining companies;
  • Ensure that oil and mining companies comply with their corporate social responsibilities, including providing compensation to any communities or individuals affected by their activities;
  • Make it mandatory for companies to carry out environmental and social impact assessments and to integrate the findings in all their economic activities; and
  • Introduce a total ban on the use of mercury in gold mining so that Sudan meets its obligations under the Minamata Convention on Mercury.

Under the Bending the Curve scenario the government would also address other emerging environmental issues, for example by introducing a national environmentally friendly mass transport system to force polluting rickshaws off the roads and boosting investment in clean forms of energy such as solar, wind and hydropower in place of electric generators.

10.4.3 Business as Usual versus Bending the Curve

Table 10.1 summarizes how the Bending the Curve scenario, with its coordinated policies and legal frameworks, would shape the future of sustainable development in Sudan. As Figure 10.6 illustrates, it is expected that the alternative policies would “bend the curve”, reversing current negative trends on some key issues and reshaping the country’s direction on the economy, population, environment, technology, urbanization and equality.

Table 10.1: Business as Usual scenario versus Bending the Curve

Key Issue/ Factor Business as Usual scenario

Current state (no change in policies)

Bending the Curve scenario

Futures State (changes in policies)

Population 1. High population growth rates 1. Moderate population growth rates
2. Massive rural-urban migration 2. Decreasing rural-urban migration
3. High birth rates and high mortality rates 3. Moderate birth rates and low mortality rates
Economic Growth and Development 1. Low economic growth rates (economic inefficiency) 1. High to moderate economic growth rates (economic efficiency)
2. Widening regional and social inequity and disparities in national development (economic inequality) 2. Socially and spatially balanced and equitable development (economic equality)
3. Dependency on single or few natural resources 3. Broad base and diversified economic production sources
4. Non-agricultural based economic investments 4. Agricultural-based smart economic investments
5. Primary and raw material exports 5. Processed or manufactured exports
6. High and rising poverty rates 6. Low and decreasing poverty rates
7. Rising deficit in balance of trade 7. Decreasing and eventually surplus in balance of trade
8. Recurring food insecurity and insufficiency associated with pressure on environment and natural resources 8. Food security and sufficiency given priority in national economic strategy
9. Poor performance in the implementation of the SDGs, resulting in Sudan lagging behind on the Human Development Index (HDI) 9. Review and strengthen institutions, policies and mechanisms relevant to the SDGs while improving Sudan’s HDI ranking
Environment and Natural Resource Governance 1. Federal environment and natural resources policy framework run by sector-led ministries that don’t coordinate 1. Coherent and coordinated institutional policy framework governing environment and natural resources
2. Environment and natural resources policy framework at state and locality levels run by institutions that do not coordinate 2. Coherent and coordinated institutional policy framework at state and locality levels
3. Competing regimes and overlapping regulations, laws and legislations related to environment and natural resource governance 3. Establishment of coherent and integrated environment and natural resources governance framework
4. Weak culture of public awareness of environmentally sound development at individual, societal and institutional levels 4. Promotion of a culture of environmentally sound development
Land Tenure System and Rights 1. Dualism land tenure with statutory and customary systems, and no legal recognition of land rights based on customary ownership 1. Harmonization of land regulations and laws and integration of customary rights into statutory law according to the best international experiences and practices
2. Absence of comprehensive national land use map which leads to misuse of environment and natural resources 2. Development of comprehensive national land use map to guide sustainable use and management of environment and natural resources
3. Increasing numbers of poor and landless individuals and communities resulting in more pressure on environment and natural resources and increase in violent conflicts 3. Policy reform to empower the poor and landless to access productive land and natural resources for their livelihoods and food security, with a resulting reduction in poverty and violent conflict
4. Lack of political will and commitment to establish land commissions at federal and state levels even though enshrined in the Interim National Constitutions of 2005 4. Establishment of land commissions at federal and state levels to lead the process of land reform
Climate Change and Variability 1. Frequent droughts, rising temperatures and rain shortages with negative consequences for population, economy, natural resource capital and the entire environment 1. Development and introduction of comprehensive and integrated national strategy for mitigation of and adaptation to climate change and variability
2. Agriculture failures and reduction in productivity resulting in food insecurity and famines 2. Adoption of drought-resilient crops and improved agricultural technologies and farm management techniques
3. Degradation of fertile land, desertification and deterioration of natural resource capital 3. Land reclamation, revitalization of the National Action Programme to Combat Desertification, and natural resource conservation
4. Climate-driven migrations and conflicts 4. Rehabilitation of climate-affected areas
Political State of Affairs 1. Perpetual political disarray, associated with multiple contestations and disputes over the fundamentals of a modern state, e.g. national identity and national permanent constitution 1. National consensus through genuine and inclusive dialogue on issues such as the sharing of wealth and power, political governance and socio-cultural diversities
2. Protracted and recurring civil wars and violent conflicts due to many interwoven factors and motives 2. A just, inclusive and lasting peace agreement that address the causes of civil wars and violent conflicts nationwide
3. Weak political will and commitment towards some international conventions related to sustainable use and management of environment and natural resources 3. Review and reinforcement of Sudan’s membership in key international and regional organizations and agreements related to sustainable environment and natural resource management

(Source Komey)

Figure 10.6: Expected changes in direction in response to alternative policies under Bending the Curve scenario (Komey)

10.5 Policy options for future sustainable development

One thing this report has made plain is that Sudan is lagging in its efforts to meet its commitments under the SDGs. The key question is what alternative policies would help Sudan achieve a more sustainable future. Table 10.2 highlights some specific policy options that would steer the country closer to the SDGs, as part of the Bending the Curve scenario.

Table 10.2: Future alternative policy options and their relevance to the SDGs (Komey)

Factors Specific Issues Policy Options Targeted SDGs
Population and Demographic Dynamics – High illiteracy rate

– Slow and weak gender mainstreaming- as an approach to gender equality-in national policies, plans and education

– Environmentally destructive consumption and production

– Promotion of literacy

– Acceleration of gender mainstreaming in national policies, plans and education

– Promotion of environmentally friendly consumption and production

– Quality Education (4)

– Gender Equality (5)

– Responsible Consumption and Production (12)

Land and Agricultural Development – Land tenure dualism associated with conflicts

– Competing, overlapping and uncoordinated land policy frameworks

– Less focus on agricultural investments and infrastructure

– Increasing number of landless people, particularly rural women and poor households

– Increase agricultural productivity through changes in funding, appropriate technologies and marketing

– Undertake land and institutional reforms

– Harmonization and integration of land tenure systems

– Policy shift in national investment and development towards agricultural sector

– No Poverty (1)

– Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions (16)

– Gender Equality (5)

– Responsible Consumption and Production (12)

Economic Growth and Development – High dependency on natural resources

– Low productivity and production

– Low economic growth

– Sustained deficit in balance of trade

– High and rising unemployment among the young

– Weak economic institutions associated with misappropriation of economic resource and natural resource capital

– Diversification of economic production among different sectors and regions

– Policy, institutional and legal reforms of economic sector

– Review and revitalization of agricultural sector

– Promotion of agro-business and agriculture-related manufacturing and processing industries

– No Poverty (1)

– Zero Hunger (2)

– Good Health and Well-being (3)

– Decent Work and Economic Growth (8)

– Reduced Inequalities (10)

– Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions (16)

Urbanization and Rural Development – Massive and sustained rural to urban migration

– Urban-biased development policies, particularly in physical and social services (roads, water, education, health)

– Lack of national strategy that integrates rural and urban production functions

– Balanced and integrated development

– Establishment of national land agency to coordinate national physical planning

– Shift focus towards rural development and investments

– Adoption of urban physical strategy that curbs unplanned settlement without services

– Sustainable Cities and Communities (11)

– Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions (16)

– No Poverty (1)

– Decent Work and Economic Growth (8)

– Reduced Inequalities (10)

– Clean Water and Sanitation (6)

Governance and Institutions – Weak and non-coordinated national governance frameworks

– Absence of enforcing mechanisms and regulations

– Lack of good governance, transparency and accountability

– Introduction of policies aimed at strengthening institutions

– Promotion of principles of good governance, transparency and accountability

– Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions (16)

– Partnerships for the Goals (17)

Technological Changes and Innovations – Weak or no national policies that encourage promotion of appropriate technologies

– Weak or no academic or training institutions that promote innovation and industrial research and development

– Lack of comprehensive and consistent policies that promote collaboration between public and private institutions

– Initiation of national policies that guide and promote technological changes and innovations in different sectors particularly in agriculture and agro-industrial activities

– Introduction of national policies that make research and development a top priority in national development strategy

– Implementation of consistent policies that promote collaboration between public and private institutions in technology and innovations

– Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure (9)

– Responsible Consumption and Production (8)

– Decent Work and Economic Growth (8)

Climate Change and Variability – Sudan is lagging behind in achieving the Climate Action SDG (13)

– Climate change and variability are some of the main causes of declining natural resource capital, agricultural productivity and food insecurity in Sudan

– Climate resilience and adaptation initiatives and projects in Sudan are mostly driven and funded by external donors or agencies

Acceleration and intensification of adaptation and resilience measures such as drought-resistant and early maturing crop varieties, crop husbandry practices, soil and water management and agro-forestry

– Promote the spread and adoption of promising technologies by increasing agricultural extension services

– Acceleration of Sudan’s engagement with the Climate Action SDG (13)

– Climate Action (13)

– Life on Land (15)

– Life below Water (14)

– Responsible Consumption and Production (12)

– No Poverty (1)

Environment, Natural Resources and Biodiversity – No national environment and natural resource governance framework in Sudan

– Different components of environment and natural resources are scattered across different government sectors, driven by competing policies and plans, and with no integration

– Most initiatives and projects aimed at sustainable management of the environment and natural resources are externally driven and/or funded

– Too little attention is paid to conservation of biodiversity, especially threatened ecosystems and species

– Initiation of an inclusive national exercise to establish a natural resource governance framework for Sudan

– Strengthening and reinforcement of natural resource policies at federal, state, local and community levels (vertical alignment), as well as across different sectors (horizontal alignment)

– Establish a national institution, independent of all ministries, with legal and administrative power to initiate and enforce policies and regulations on biodiversity, natural resources, and the environment

– Clean Water and Sanitation (6)

– Affordable and Clean Energy (7)

– Responsible Consumption and Production (12)

– Life below Water (14)

– Life on Land (15)

– Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions (16)

Equity and Equality – Rising social, inter-regional and intra-regional disparities in development

– Increasing poverty rate associated with destructive exploitation of environment and natural resources

– Fragile state institutions associated with poor governance, socio-political disruption, conflict, injustice and inequality

– Creation of national policies aimed at equitable socio-economic development and sustainable environmental and natural resource management

– Increase level of political commitment towards poverty reduction

– Establish a just and lasting peace and begin process of state-building and national integration

– Gender Equality (5)

– Reduced Inequalities (10)

– Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions (16)

10.6 The 2030 Sudan

Because of the country’s long hours of sunshine and improving investment climate, there is large-scale private and public investment in both grid and off-grid renewable energy, especially solar and wind power. By 2030, most Sudanese have access to clean electricity, which leads to huge savings for the country as it does not need to import electricity. Sudan also significantly reduces its carbon footprint. Cases of upper respiratory infections caused by indoor pollution are dramatically cut, and the country meets its health targets.


The country’s land use and land tenure laws are overhauled, resulting in not only protection of land as private property but also use of this asset as collateral for bank loans. The loans are used to invest in farming, which is well supported by research and extension services. Yields of important cereals such as millet and sorghum increase substantially on a unit area basis following the availability of high-yielding seed on the market. Sedentary farmers and pastoralists live in harmony as new methods of farming are introduced. As a result, Sudan achieves its targets under the SDGs for reducing hunger and poverty.


With a well-functioning land tenure system, water use rights are also improved across much of Sudan. The widespread adoption of rainwater harvesting techniques results in more water availability, while investment in water drilling, aided by an investor-friendly regime, ensures that groundwater sources such as the Nubian aquifer are carefully used. There is consensus around the Nile Basin Initiative, resulting in a more equitable sharing of the water resources of the basin by the 10 riparian countries that share it. Sudan joins the rest of the world in protecting its marine environment from pollution, while also extending the area under protection for the conservation of marine resources. The SDG targets for safe drinking water, sanitation and life under water are met by 2030.


Sudan’s diverse ecosystems – including deserts, forests, wetlands and coastal and marine environments – are well protected, while there are also significant efforts to develop the country’s agro-biodiversity. Population numbers rebound for endangered species such as the Northern giraffe (Giraffa Camelopardalis) and the African wild dog (Lycaon pictus), and rarely seen species such as the Nubian ibex (Capra ibex nubiana) and Gazella albenetata. With large-scale investment in protected areas for both the terrestrial and marine environments, Sudan meets its Aichi Biodiversity Targets, as well as SDG targets for life under water and life on land.


Following the recognition of the negative impacts of unregulated artisanal gold mining, Sudan changes its mining laws to include a total ban on the use of mercury. Support is provided to the miners to organize themselves into groups so that they can jointly use ore-processing facilities and organize their marketing. Degraded land is rehabilitated, and new mining operations are more environmentally friendly. The country not only adheres to the Minamata Convention, but also significantly improves the quality of life and health of the miners.


Large-scale investments in public transport systems result in the disappearance of the rickshaw, resulting in significant improvements in the quality of air in towns and cities. Investments in solar, wind and hydropower ensure that the country has surplus electricity and therefore no need to use fuel-powered generators. As a result, people’s quality of life, including their health, improves significantly.


The scourge of desertification continues to affect Sudan, but people have learnt to adapt to the desert conditions. Afforestation programmes are implemented and the vegetation cover is increased. Stockpiles of obsolete pesticides are destroyed, while contaminated soils and water are remediated.



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