A tale of the rising vulnerability and diminishing resilience against health risks of changing climate in one of the least developed countries.
Poverty, desertification and violent conflicts remain as the features of Sudanese socio-political climate, since its declaration of political independence.
By 1989 National Islamic front took power organized coup d’état and imposed new rule on Sudan, thus massive political and economic change which escalated and intensified civil war in South Sudan and other regions. By late eighties, Neo liberal policies were still fresh and the legacy of Thatcher – Reagan era were very welcomed by the new Islamic regime. Public social and health service were neglected and thousands of qualified medical and civil officers were dismissed from service. Consequently, the total public health sector was in a disastrous situation and unfortunately the current situation is pretty much the same.
During the past 30 years, the financial resource allocated to health sector did not exceed 2% of the total annual national budget. Of which, most was allotted to security, military spending and war bill. This led to the public health sector witnessing great deterioration, suffering from poor management, shrinking resources and capacity.
Beside vulnerability due to inefficient management and resources, poor infrastructure, lack of rain, inadequate sewage drainage system, waste collection and treatment facilities had caused further deterioration of the environment. Poor public health services led to increased problems that threatens the physical and mental health of lives of millions of Sudanese people without their realization.
As one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change effects, Sudan had lately witnessed various extreme climatic conditions, such as drought and rain fall rate variations and water scarcity beside heavy rains and flooding. Haboobs huge sand storms once struck Khartoum in 2006 has been occurring more frequently since then. These extreme weather conditions and changes had significantly contributed to the spread of many infectious endemic diseases such as water borne Malaria, Cholera, Diarrhea and other respiratory disease like asthma and allergies.
Malaria and climate change in Sudan
Malaria one of the deadliest, climate sensitive and epidemic diseases that affects Sudan and the African region in general. A child dies every minute from malaria in Africa where it is estimated that 9 out of 10 malaria deaths occur. In 2013, there were 528 000 deaths from malaria and about 78% of these were in children under 5 years of age .
Various scientific studies done on effects of changing climatic factors on the spread of infectious disease transmitted by insects, concluded that “Changes in climate factors “higher temperatures and heavier rainfall” and changes in climate variability would encourage insect carriers of some infectious diseases to multiply and move further. Changes in climate may alter the distribution of important vector species and may increase the spread of disease to new areas, populations that fall outside areas of stable endemic malaria transmission may be vulnerable to increases in malaria due to climate changes.”
Despite the considerable international aid and funding that exceeded 80 million US Dollars for confronting Malaria in Sudan over the last two years, the situation is still disastrous and in 2015 alone more than 1.9 million episodes and 6800 deaths of malaria have been reported. Still, we have reason to believe that the effect and burden of Malaria is somewhat underestimated. In 2007 a study was conducted in Sudan which revealed underreporting of malaria episodes and deaths to the formal health system, with the consequent underestimation of the disease burden.
This disastrous situation could be owed to various factors, mainly poor management and low human resource capacity beside lack of public awareness and the active meaningful involvement of community in confronting the disease. Hopefully Sudanese climate activist could contribute in this effort and organize initiatives towards improving public health situation in Sudan.
Air pollution an imminent threat on health in our homes, workplace and transport
In addition to its contribution to global warming due to greenhouse effect, air pollutants like Carbon mono dioxides, Nitrogen oxides and methane causes various diseases like Asthma and could badly harm our lungs and respiratory system. Carbon monoxide and Methane are poisonous and breathing little amount of them could cause death.
The poor air quality caused by use of inefficient coal stoves and wood logs for cooking hurts the health of children and women. In addition, the rising fossil fuel emissions from transport cars and bikes.
Since the last decade Khartoum and other Sudanese witnessed the invasion of Bajaj Rickshaws (three wheeled bikes) which dominated large share of in city transport. Unfortunately, emissions from these bikes are worse and higher than cars due to their use of benzene and Engine oil blend for fuel.
Lately haboobs or sand storms become more frequent and caused many respiratory health problems and contributed to the increase of Asthma spread in Sudan.
Air pollution is real threat to public health and we should take action and try to stop all the practices that contribute to its increase, and promote the use of clean energy low emission technology in both the household and transport, and support the transition to clean energy use and climate smart modern transport system.
Climate refugees, forced displacement impacts on psychological health
Variations in rain fall rates throughout the savanna region of Sudan have caused water crisis in vast areas, forcing thousands to leave their homes and move to other territories with more secure water and food supplies. These new climate refugees by their nature were occupied by other populations, therefore more intense conflicts rose due to higher need over the diminishing resources. Hundreds of thousands have died and more displaced to refugees camps that lack basic life needs. Trauma and psychological stress were their everyday experience.
Their health was severely deteriorated and their morals plummeted. Thus, they turned to be unproductive and reliant on aid and unable to improve their living situation but enclosed in a vicious cycle of violent conflicts and wars.
Climate change brings many threats to our public and personal health in both physical and psychological levels. Hence, we activist and socially concerned people should take serious action after holistically thinking of how to mitigate those imminent risks and how to benefit from and use climate finance to confront and minimize them.
About the Author
Rami Abdoun is a Sudanese Social Activist and Climate journalist from Khartoum, Sudan. He is a qualified Mechanical Engineer specialized in Renewable energy engineering and low carbon development.