In Sudan, COVID-19 is causing several unprecedented crises. The increase of confirmed cases has led to the collapse, as in other countries of the health system because of the increasing number of confirmed cases in a country where 26% of the population do not have access to potable water. COVID-19 could deepen food shortages due to impacts of the lockdown on food imports, transportation and agriculture production, and a looming locust invasion will destroy crops and make 58% of households—those who cannot afford a daily food basket—more vulnerable. Preserving the country’s natural resources is critical and could be the way to sustain the future.
The Sudan Sustainable Natural Resources Management Project (SSNRMP) has shown that investing in natural resources assets, protecting biodiversity and wildlife habitats can deliver environmental benefits, disease regulation, as well as socio-economic outcomes — a win-win for all. During the pandemic, the project expanded its agenda from promoting sustainable land management to supporting communities address emerging issues. The project has eased access to water, built awareness on health risks through radio campaigns, and distributed hygienic and protective supplies in public places. These measures made a difference in the lives of thousands.
In Sudan, there is only 1.2 hospitals and 13.5 primary health care centers per 100,000 residents. The pandemic is weighing heavily on a government that is already overwhelmed with multiple development challenges.
Undoubtedly, the fight against COVID-19 is not the responsibility of the health sector alone. It demands multisectoral coordination. Recognizing the potentially devastating health and socio-economic consequences of the pandemic, the government, in collaboration with civil society and the international community, is putting considerable efforts into controlling the spread while safeguarding economic growth.
To support an accelerated response to COVID-19, the SSNRMP, a World Bank/Global Environment Facility-financed project currently operating in six states, has stepped up its community mobilization and awareness program. Immediate and medium-term redress to the pandemic as they align with the project’s main objective of preserving the natural resources are being supported.
Partnering with the Shomose Voluntary Organization in the White Nile State, the Sudanese Environment Conservation Society in Kassala State and the Ministry of Health, the SSNRMP has implemented a COVID-19 campaign targeting project communities. The campaign provided information about COVID-19, signs and symptoms, and key preventive measures. Ultra-vulnerable households received basic hygienic and protective supplies such as soaps, sanitizers, and masks. Common public places primarily water stations, community markets, mosques and health centers were disinfected following guidelines from the Ministry of Health.
SSNRMP is addressing two inextricably linked issues, climate change and land degradation, through an integrated natural resources management approach that build the resilience of ecosystems and communities. The project provided poor and vulnerable communities with access to water, secured food supply, alternative livelihoods, diversified sources of income and jobs adopting labor-intensive landscape management techniques. Thus far, SSNRMP brought 111,256 hectares of land under sustainable landscape management practices with 47,210 people directly benefiting from project interventions.
Food Security during the COVID-19 Pandemic: The COVID-19 pandemic trade-offs seem unavoidable, but for many countries like Sudan, maintaining or increasing agricultural yield and food production is crucial to avoid possible food insecurity. The SSNRMP introduced improved home gardens, innovative smallholder farming systems such as mixed cropping, livestock systems and crop species variety to support 3,764 households across Kassala, White Nile and Gezira states. Multiple water harvesting systems have been established as well at all target sites. To highlight the interlinkages between food security and COVID-19, the Gezira State project Community Mobilization Officer started a smart media initiative, broadcasting a program through the El-Gezira FM radio.
A crisis within a crisis, the coronavirus is not the only threat to Sudan’s agricultural production and food security. The worst desert locust outbreak in decades is another key challenge posing a grave risk to the already weak food supply system. A typical desert locust swarm, containing up to 150 million locusts per km2 and covering over 100 km2/day, can destroy enough food to feed 2,500 people. Given the potential high risk to Sudan, SSNRMP is supporting the efforts by the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the FAO to prevent this disaster by ensuring preparedness to minimize the spread to most productive agricultural areas. As part of this effort, in Kassala state, SSNRMP will loan project vehicles to this agenda.
Suffice it to say that while the world races to find a vaccine and treatment for COVID-19, information and awareness, preventive measures including good handwashing complemented with good nutrition will continue to be critical to controlling the spread. SSNRMP’s support to improve access to water and food security, while sustaining the natural resources assets using labor intensive techniques will serve immediate and longer-term resilience needs especially for a country that is still transitioning to a more stable growth path.