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Flooding in Sudan Prompts Calls for Early Warning System for Climate-Related Disasters

A Sudanese specialist has called for a scientific early warning system for natural disasters such as the ongoing torrential rain and flooding in Sudan that have killed more than 100 people and affected nearly 300,000 others.

Osman Mirghani, a professor at the Institute of Environmental Studies at the University of Khartoum, told Al-Fanar Media that such a system was urgently needed.

The Sudanese government has declared the eastern central province of Gezira a disaster zone with dozens of villages submerged. Fifteen of the country’s 18 provinces are affected. Some survivors have called this year’s June-to-October rainy season the worst they have ever seen, although 800,000 people were affected by floods in Sudan in 2020.

Sudan’s latest flood emergency comes just months before the 2022 U.N. Climate Change Conference, called COP 27, which will be held in Egypt in November. The death toll and the extent of the damage have raised questions about whether the country’s universities have enough courses and are training enough specialists in fields related to climate change.

(See a related article: “Better Weather Data Will Save Lives as Climate Threats Increase, U.N. Says”.)

Academics and experts say it is rare to see new meteorology or climate change courses at Sudanese universities.

Mirghani said universities had no specific course on the effects of flooding or areas related to climate change.

The death toll and damage from Sudan’s latest flooding emergency have raised questions about whether the country’s universities have enough courses and are training enough specialists in fields related to climate change.

He added that environmental impact studies were not among the priorities of the government, which puts more focus on irrigation projects.

But he expects to see greater interest in creating courses in water resource science after the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam because of the changes that will occur as a result of the dam and its impact on Sudan’s share of the Nile’s waters.

Lack of Environmental Impact Studies

Mirghhani said the Institute of Environmental Studies does offer a master’s programme in meteorology, which has been specifically designed to train employees of Sudan’s Meteorological Authority.

The institute was established in 1977 as a collaborative effort between the University of Khartoum and the United Nations University, the academic arm of the United Nations which is  headquartered  in Tokyo. The institute receives master’s and Ph.D. students in environmental sciences and organises workshops and specialised training courses.

Mirghani warned that “the lack of environmental impact studies of urban building projects is reflected in the great damage caused by floods. Population growth and urban expansion have blocked flood drainage pathways, which were working normally years ago.”

(See a related article: “Sudanese Hydrologist Calls for Tackling Root Causes of Nile Water Crisis”.)

He added that water resource information the authorities were currently using was “not up to date.”,  It was based on when Sudan and South Sudan were one county before the secession process in 2011 and was leaving researchers unable to draw up  realistic plans to address the country’s water crisis.

Mirghani said students needed field training and basic environmental knowledge in biological, chemical, physical, geological and applied disciplines. Water resource data should be updated and held in specialised centres to help researchers design water policies.

Weak Funding for Research

Abdullah Khayar, a former director of Sudan’s Meteorological Authority, links the scarcity of specialist climate change researchers to the weak funding allocated to scientific research.

“The lack of environmental impact studies of urban projects is reflected the great damage caused by floods. Population growth and urban expansion have blocked flood drainage pathways, which were working normally years ago.”

Osman Mirghani, Professor at the Institute of Environmental Studies, University of Khartoum

Khayar told Al-Fanar Media that the limited financial support was also reflected in the lack of modern, advanced devices to document the effects of climate and temperature changes in recent years. It is likely that these effects will become more difficult and expensive to adapt to in the future, he said.

Iqbal Warraq, a professor in the Faculty of Environmental Sciences at National Ribat University, in Khartoum, told Al-Fanar Media that despite the importance of the specialisation and its great local impact, climate change programmes were limited to specific environmental courses and could not be studied on a stand-alone basis.

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She said the absence of clear policies to mitigate the effects of climate change resulted in unclear plans and goals because of “the lack of specific budgets to limit the effects of climate change, or to fund research that serves environmental and climate change issues.” She also complained that complex procedures made it difficult to apply research in the field.

She said that to make the most use of climate change research it should be linked to government centres that have  special tools for remote sensing and meteorology.

Related Reading

Sudan’s Floods Destroy Schools and Dreams

Floods, Locusts, and Covid-19: Somali Students and Universities Struggle

Egyptian Officials Defend Country’s Climate Change Initiatives Before COP27 Summit

Britain and Egypt Agree on Climate Initiatives Ahead of Climate Summit

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