With less than 18 days of rain a year, Sudan is a nation where access to water and healthy pasture is crucial to the survival of rural pastoralist tribes, for whom herding cattle such as camels and sheep is a common livelihood that provides them with income, meat, and milk.
But as water continues to dry up in Gebaish, nomadic and herding families continue their annual migration spanning hundreds of kilometres to the Al-Habeel area in between June and August, where the rainy season grazing area and pasturelands are.
But in Sudan, the seasonal migration is dependent on reciprocity and relationships that go back generations, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
“Our fathers and their fathers brought their herds here as well,” Hamdan, a pastoralist from the Hamar tribe in Gebaish, said. Like so many others, the seasonal migrations are a way of life, and he makes the 120 kilometre journey every year. “The villagers in Al-Habeel share with us their water and grazing sources.”
The Hamar tribe usually sends a representative ahead of the annual migration to assess the route, come to agreements with resident tribes, and make sure the routes to be taken do not intrude on agricultural and farm land – an incredibly vital step in avoiding conflict.
But the system is also incredibly delicate.
For example, when the storage tank and water pump in Al-Habeel deteriorated, villagers were forced to journey more than 25 kilometres to another town – the nearest water source – but it also meant that the nomadic and herding families had to travel further south, where they had no maintained, historical, or traditional relationships or agreements.
But now to lower competition for precious water resources, a project, bankrolled by the European Union’s Instrumental Contributing to Stability and Peace, is spearheaded by the UNEP along with SOS Sahel, a local non-governmental organisation (NGO), to improve access to water and support the Al-Habeel community, repair their storage tank and water pump, and by extension, also support nomadic herders such as the Hamar tribe.
But more importantly, the project has provided a platform for community leaders from various villages as well as migratory pastoralists to come together, discuss, and plan how to distribute the scarce water resources fairly.
“Before the water yard was rehabilitated, the villagers in Al-Habeel had to travel all the way to Babanusa town to access water,” Saad Ahmed, Mahamoud, the secretary of the Al-Habeel village community, who maintains the water yard and ensures the water is shared fairly among various communities, explained. “We can also share the water with the Hamar people. We talked together about sharing the water and the pastures, and we have reached an agreement that means everyone has what they need.”
Source: United Nations Environment Programme