top of page

31. The consequences of climate change for sub-Saharan Africa

My life alongside God's word, volume 3. 21st century issues section.

– by Anthony Poggo

Please read these Bible verses, inserted by the editor, before starting the article:

“Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds”. And it was so”, Genesis 1:11.

“Streams (or mist) came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground”,

Genesis 2:6.

“A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters”, Genesis 2:10.

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it”, Genesis 2:15.

“I (God) am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish”, Genesis 6:17.

“Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth. And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between Me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set My rainbow in the clouds and it will be a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth …””, Genesis 9:11-13.

“If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees of the field their fruit”,

Leviticus 26:3-4.

“However, if you do not obey the Lord your God … the sky over your head will be bronze, the ground beneath you iron. The Lord will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder; it

will come down from the skies until you are destroyed”, Deuteronomy 28:15, 23-24.

“… Your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous”, spoken by our Lord Jesus in Matthew 5:45.

"After Jesus calmed the storm on the lake His disciples asked

one another, “What kind of a man is this? Even the winds and

the waves obey him!”, Matthew 8:23-27.


Climate changes in many parts of Africa, and especially Sudan/South Sudan, have been conspicuous and noticeable. The apparent concern over the enormous consequences of

these changes that stare sub-Saharan Africa in the face must draw concerted efforts towards actions that try to redress the related challenges.

Changes in seasons

While growing up in Kajo-Keji, then Southern Sudan, I used to note that annual seasons were easily predictable. We had our rainy season from March/April to October/November. The dry season was from November to March. During this

latter period, you would know that there would be no rains and you would also know when the rains would come so you could prepare for the crop planting season. The months of May, June and July " usually the wet months of Southern Sudan. Nowadays, this is not the case any more. This year, for example, the seasons have drastically changed. The month of July that usually experiences significant rains is yet to receive

any rains. Crops continue to wilt in the dry ground. It is believed the clouds that should have caused the rains have been blown away to the east by the strong westerly winds,

which has resulted in the awful monsoon floods that continue to submerge areas across Indonesia and the Philippines.

Sadly, this trend has been so for several years now. Last year there were floods in most parts of Sudan and Eastern Africa. There are glaring examples of the occurrence of droughts in places that had not experienced droughts before, now recurring year on year; plus the prevalence of floods out of season and at awkward times and places; stronger westerly winds presumptively leading to drier environments and the citing of harsh weather conditions that are linked to the many plane crashes; the extinction of plant species, lower rates of photosynthesis and water level changes. All of the above have contributed in one way or another to the diminishing levels of crop yields, putting pressure on the provision of food for everyone.

South Sudan’s Sudd region

An important consequence of climate change in Sudan/South Sudan is the slow drying up of the sudds in central Sudan. This is a matter of grave concern caused by, among other factors, the proposed drainage of these sudds in the 1970s due to the excavation of the Jonglei Canal. This project was one of the reasons that made Southern Sudan take up arms to wage a military protest, and it should not be treated lightly. The climatic conditions in parts of the Sudan/South Sudan are worsened by the increase in animal grazing in the Sahel region, especially in the light of the influx of returning Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) as well as other new settlers. The increase in human

population is forcing mankind to encroach on this formerly unsettled land, i.e. the sudds. As communities continue to encroach into the exotic forests that usually harbour wild- animals diseases, these diseases affecting more and more people. Some of these diseases are so unique that they are thought to have been responsible for causing the

prophylactic shocks that have reportedly caused the deaths of many people in the area. This is so firstly because human biochemical systems cannot yet imitate the diseases to

combat with even a prototype chemical cure; and secondly because there is presently no known cure for these diseases in the ‘human’ or natural world.

In this regard, the Sudanese and Egyptian governments anticipated that the solution would be the excavation of the Jonglei Canal, thus draining the waters of the swamps in the area (the sudd region). Nonetheless, Egypt is dependent on the Nile and was only too keen to increase its water supply in order to expand its agricultural production. Thus in 1959, Sudan and Egypt signed the Nile Water Agreement which allowed for the construction of the Aswan Dam. The agreement also looked at the issue of quantifying and distributing the shares of the Nile Waters.

The flooding, water logging and creepy flow of the water in

the sudd region have had negative consequences on farming

in the area. Yongo-Bure in 'The Economic Development of Southern Sudan', suggests that there is a need to retain and store the excess water during the rainy season so as to

use the same during the dry season. He further recommends excavation of many watering points by way of widening sections of the seasonal rivers and streams.

Unfortunately, the plans to construct the Jonglei Canal rekindled the deeply seated distrust that Southern Sudanese have of Northern Sudan. It also brought to the fore the

suspicion between the Sudan and Egypt. It was generally perceived that since Egypt is keen to increase the supply of water to meet its own needs, it may not be in its national

interest to pay attention to the environmental impact of the Canal on the people of Southern Sudan. Even so, it is largely unknown if there has been any efforts made to look at an alternative to the excavation of the Canal?

Is there any link between war and climatic change?

In 1990, Dr. Butrous Ghali, former Secretary General of theUnited Nations, also former Foreign Minister of Egypt, reportedly said that the next war that Egypt would fight would be over the issue of the Nile, not politics. (The Daily Nation, 27th June 2008). A United Nations Development Programme report says that the main conflict in Africa during the next 25 years could be over water. An article appearing in a Kenyan daily newspaper posed a question on whether or not the wars in Sub Saharan Africa were the effect of climate change. The same query has been raised over the civil war in Darfur.

"Water is Africa's lifeblood. Rainfall on its central mountains feeds Lake Victoria, the

world's third largest lake. It in turn, feeds the White Nile, which flows north. Construction of the (Jonglei) canal began in the latter half of the 1970s, but it halted when the Sudanese Civil War intensified. Huge pieces of excavating machinery now lie rusting away at former construction sites. South Sudan came into being after the civil war ended. It separated from Sudan in July 2011. Today, there are mounting calls to resume construction". "It would make large-scale irrigated agriculture possible near the canal, and would make river transport more viable," said University of Juba professor and Nile researcher Abednego Akok. "The benefits for South Sudan would be considerable." South Sudan's road infrastructure was devastated by the civil war, so river transport is viewed as an essential resource for the distribution of goods. There is, therefore, a compelling economic argument for the canal's construction, while many believe completing the project would meet the interests of nations downstream such as Egypt. Even so, inhabitants along the canal's planned route are often reliant on the Sudd for their livelihoods. They catch fish that graze on aquatic plants, and on the river's sand bars in the dry season they grow crops such as corn and graze livestock. If the canal is built, the river and wetlands as they are now would shrink as the water is redirected. "Generations of my ancestors lived in the same place for hundreds of years," said 60-year-old Achiek Mayaw, from the village of Jawaing on the outskirts of Bor. "I don't know much about the canal, but the wetlands are our life source." The canal would have an immeasurable impact on the surrounding environment, so the South Sudanese government is approaching the project cautiously". Excerpt from: Tadashi Sugiyama,

The Asahi Shimbun, 28th October 2012.

The presidents of the Eastern Nile countries of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia signed the

Declaration of Principles of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on March 23, 2015.

Relative official and public acceptance has prevailed in Egypt. After a long historical feud

over the Nile waters that Egypt considers part of its national security, Ethiopia and

Egypt are trying to rebuild trust.

Although answering these questions may require one to provide some scientific evidence, it is worth mentioning that the visible decline in water availability and the increase of droughts and floods alone, are enough reason to link changes in the climate to their impact on the socio-economic development of sub Saharan Africa. The historic seasonal migration of Northern Sudanese nomads from their domains in the north to some parts of South Sudan can lead to war if such remains unhampered. With this fact in mind (then) Southern Sudan's President directed the authorities in the bordering areas to allow the Misseriya nomads to access grazing areas during dry seasons.

Scarcity of cattle grazing lands for South Sudanese pastoralists is enough to cause

inter tribal conflicts, which have the potential to escalate and degenerate into a resource-based warfare between the South and the North. Recent eruptions of fighting in Abyei indicates the fragility of the situation at hand.

The Sudan civil war

One of the effects of war on people is the rising attitude of disregard for the environment. During the 21 years of war in Sudan, there was wanton harvest of large forests in Southern

Sudan either for sale of the timber or as a source of fuel for cooking (charcoal). Conversely, no mitigation efforts were made to plant more trees. I remember my earlier years of school when we were reminded to “cut one tree - plant two trees”. We were made to value forests as a vital part of the larger environment that must be carefully managed if they are to be sustainable. Most countries have adopted policies to promote the sustainable management of forests. Unless this is done, population increase will put too much pressure on the forests, leading to its over utilisation and eventually to

deforestation. As a church/Christian response in our diocese, we have made a deliberate effort to intensify tree planting. Thus whenever we dedicate a new local church, we plant

trees. In this vein and in striving to teach by example, we recently dedicated three new churches and planted at least 15 trees.

Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

The climate is closely linked to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. The seventh MDG is about ensuring environmental sustainability. Some of the targets to

meet this MDG include the need to protect the environment, to reduce by half the number of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation, and to significantly improve the lives of slum dwellers through provision of decent and affordable housing for the world’s poor.

Water is life!

Several years ago an article on the MDGs in ‘Footsteps’ (a Tearfund – UK newsletter) indicated that worldwide 2.6 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation and that

over 1 billion people are without access to safe drinking water. The article says over 5 million children under five years of age die every year from water borne diseases caused

by inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene.

Sudan/South Sudan have many big rivers, including the Nile, but these are scattered in different parts of the countries so that getting water from these rivers to the people who need it is practically difficult and too expensive. Even where a water source may be close by, people are unable to take advantage of it. Cities like Juba and Malakal are just by the

River White Nile, yet most of the residents of these towns struggle with the problem of lack of water. In Juba, people live as if they are hundreds of miles away from the world’s longest river, yet it is just a stone’s throw away from most residential areas!

Apart from the need to plant more trees in order to protect the soil and provide shade, fuel wood and windbreaks, ‘Footsteps’ recommends a number of other practical

suggestions. They include the need to build hand-dug latrines and the use of more efficient cooking stoves that save fuel. For families with corrugated iron sheeted house

roofs, it is recommended that they use this for collecting rainwater for drinking. If such ideas are implemented we will be taking important steps to ensuring that the 7th MDG is

achieved in South Sudan.


Arguably the ongoing changes in our climate are easily linked to the acceleration of the southward encroachment of the Sahara desert. Changes in the climate have also affected the availability of water in my village, with some of the rivers that used to retain water during the rainy season no longer doing so. There is a river called “Linyakure” (literally

meaning ‘finisher of thirst’) that used to remain swollen, but is now receding fast during the dry seasons, having become narrower and sand filled. What we are witnessing in my

village appears to represent the general phenomenon that follows climate change in many parts of sub Saharan Africa. It is important that we do something about these and other changes in climate.

Doing nothing is not an option. The churches can play a significant role in enlightening the people. The churches meet more people face to face every week and can therefore be the best avenue to bring this issue to its adherents.

(First presented to the 2008 Lambeth Conference in London on 31st July. The Lambeth

Conference is a once a decade conference of Anglican bishops. This presentation has been slightly amended, with updated notes here).


bottom of page