Sudan floods remind us that Global South is first to face the brunt of climate change

By Emma Ogao

A steady stream of water flows through the streets of Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, following weeks of heavy rainfall and flooding.

In some parts of the city, buildings lay completely submerged; and as streets turned into rivers, boats now act as the designated form of transport, calmly floating above the roads where cars once drove. Seasonal rains between the months of July and October are not a new phenomenon in Sudan, however as authorities declare a three-month state of emergency, it is clear that the situation this year is strikingly different. 

This year, rains forecasted in Ethiopia and Sudan have come with unprecedented intensity causing the River Nile to rise to 17.5 meters (around 57 feet) — the highest level recorded in almost 100 years. The rise in the Nile’s water levels has triggered severe flooding across Sudan that has left at least 100 people dead, affected half a million Sudanese people countrywide, damaged more than one hundred thousand homes, and left thousands homeless; prompting The Sudanese Security and Defense Council to cordon off the Sub-Saharan nation as a ‘natural disaster zone’. 

What caused Sudan’s record floods?

According to environmental scientists, the River Nile is extremely sensitive to climatic fluctuations. Thus, as global temperatures rise, the Nile’s river basin evaporates each spring at an alarmingly increasing rate. This has led to heavy seasonal rains in the highlands above the river and resulted in a dramatic increase in the volume of water flowing down the Nile. 

Scientists also cite deforestation and poor land management as potential contributors to the Nile’s historic floods; articulating that loss of forest cover along the Nile’s riverbank has left barren land which cannot act as a ‘buffer’ in the event of flooding or heavy rainfall.

“I have never seen flooding this bad in Sudan”, says Zahra. “We have experienced several floods here over the years, especially around this time of the year. But I have never in my life seen anything to this scale or degree.”

Sudan’s Irrigation and Water Resources Ministry are optimistic that water levels will gradually decrease over the coming weeks. But as the world watches Sudanese citizens try their best to navigate flooded streets, there is a powerful and striking reminder that although climate change is forecasted to affect every nation in the world, it is the Global South that will experience the most devastating impacts of its wrath. 

Sudan floods a ‘threat multiplier’ 

Last year, The Red Cross listed Sudan among the world’s nations that are the most vulnerable to climate change. 

Despite contributing less than one percent to global greenhouse gas emission levels, Sudan’s unique geographical location has made the Sub-Saharan nation vulnerable to being at the receiving end of climate change.  

Not only are nations in the Global South such as Sudan likely to experience an increase in extreme weather events, for example severe floods. Yet experts forecast that secondary impacts of climate change (such as food insecurity, rise in internally displaced persons, and economic instability), are likely to exacerbate existing economic and socio-political divisions. 

It is for this reason that climate change is often referred to as a ‘threat multiplier’.

Floods in Sudan strikingly showcase the primary and secondary impacts of climate change happening in real-time, serving as a powerful reminder that climate change is not a distant phenomenon. It is manifesting here and now, and its effects are already being felt harshly by nations in the Global South. 

Sadly, the global injustice of climate change is that it is the countries which contribute the least to global emissions of greenhouse gasses will be most impacted by the consequences of our changing world. 

Climate Change: what now? 

With climate change currently standing as one of the most pressing issues of our time, global efforts are focussed on developing effective and sustainable strategies to lower global emissions whilst protecting vulnerable communities. People are growing increasingly aware of climate change, and there is a great desire to do something about it. 

Global efforts to tackle climate change have often fallen into one of two strategies: mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation strategies focus on lowering emissions from the atmosphere and creating new forms of renewable energy, whilst adaptation strategies seek to find ways to adjust current systems and help societies withstand the impacts of our changing climate. In a poignant interview with The Observer Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, stressed that both mitigation and adaptation strategies are crucial in the fight against climate change. 

“We cannot allow ourselves to choose between climate change mitigation and adaptation. We simply need both”, said Kofi Annan. “All countries stand to lose if we fail [to] take the right measures to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. At the same time, we have to adapt to the severe impacts of climate change already underway.”

Speaking on the global inequality of climate change, Mr Annan also stressed that it is imperative for wealthier nations, especially those that are the biggest emitters of CO2, to assist other nations that are already beginning to experience climate change’s wrath with financial resources and technologies mitigating global warming’s impact. 

“It is important that developed and developing countries cut emissions. However, fairness demands that richer countries and those with the highest emissions take the lead”, articulated Kofi Annan. “We need equitable and effective policies, which ensure that the world’s richer countries support the aspirations of developing countries to follow a sustainable development path”. 

They say ‘when it rains, it pours’, and in our ever-changing climate, these pours are increasingly likely to turn into record floods that endanger the lives and livelihoods of thousands. Sudan’s floods powerfully convey the urgent nature of climate change, and highlight that global cooperation is integral to ensuring the global south does not unjustly bear the brunt of climate change

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