Universities should set up climate surveillance network

Several Sudanese universities have experienced the impact of seasonal rains and flash floods due to climate change, according to Professor Awad Elkarim Khalifa, the dean of the Institute of Gum Arabic Research and Desertification Studies at the University of Kordofan in Sudan.

Khalifa is the lead author of a June 2021 study, ‘Impact of climate change on agro-forestry system and adaptation strategies, Bara locality, North Kordofan, Sudan’.

By the end of September, the seasonal rains and flash floods have affected almost 349,000 people, destroyed at least 24,860 homes and damaged another 48,250 in 16 of the 18 states. A total of 146 people died and 122 people were injured since the beginning of the rainy season in June, according to Flood Response Update prepared by Sudan’s United Nations office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs (OCHA).

Also, people have lost more than 4,800 head of livestock, and over 12,100 feddan (about 5,100 hectares) of agricultural land, which will exacerbate the already worrying levels of food insecurity people across the country are facing.

While the climate change knowledge portal stated that “several vulnerability indices rank Sudan among the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate variability and change”, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment report, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, adaptation and vulnerability, put Sudan among the top 20 countries most vulnerable globally to damage from an increase in the frequency of major flooding events.

Educational impact

“The floods have affected the Sudanese universities which are located near the River Nile, mainly the Blue Nile, where the soil type is clay,” Khalifa told University World News.

“The universities include the University of Blue Nile, the University of Zalingei, the University of Dalang, the River Nile University and Kasala University which have observed the impact on their buildings and teaching. There is the need for help to face the impact of the floods,” Khalifa added.

“The impact of the floods on these universities [includes] damage to buildings, which negatively affects and disrupts teaching. The work at universities will be delayed until maintenance has been done,” said Khalifa.

OCHA’s Flood Response Update indicated that the floods have affected more than 397 schools (272 damaged and 125 destroyed), disrupting the education of about 140,000 children.

Research about climate change

“The status of climate change research at Sudanese universities is low, due to infrastructure and [dearth of] research facilities and expertise,” said Khalifa.

“In order to promote the role of universities in facing the impact of climate change, training in the field of climate research is needed for the universities’ staff as well as providing research facilities along with offering funds,” he suggested.

Professor Suad Sulaiman, the health and the environment adviser at the Sudanese National Academy of Sciences and a member of the Sudan Environment Conservation Society, told University World News: “Floods and rains used to happen all over the country in most of the states with varying degrees, but due to climate change, more floods and rains happened recently in areas where previously they had short rainfalls.

“Universities in Sudan, both public and private, are found in all of the country states which are prone to heavy rains and floods,” added Sulaiman, who is co-author of an August 2021 study, ‘The impacts of climate change on displaced populations: A call for action’.

“It is, therefore, mandatory that universities and academic institutions should be serving the communities around them in different capacities as most of the enrolled staff and students would be from those communities,” Sulaiman noted.

“All universities should establish and develop surveillance systems to monitor climate change, including rainfall and floods in the states around them.

“The more established universities, namely the University of Khartoum, Sudan University of Science and Technology, the universities of Elneelain, Bahri in Khartoum, Gezira and Kordofan could be developed into surveillance leaders and assist other, newer universities in the process,” Sulaiman suggested.

“These facilities should be linked to the related ministries in each state to develop the network with its centre at the University of Khartoum and other established universities in Khartoum where all the collected data and information can be deposited,” he said.

“Climate change research in the different states can also be developed through this network,” he added.

“Most of the young universities are not well equipped for research and their facilities are hardly adequate for teaching,” Sulaiman pointed out.

According to him, the lack of facilities at some universities could be addressed by coordinating activities. He said skills development could be strengthened by building teams and monitoring data collection in each state.

“The outcome of the network for the surveillance of floods and climate change would help in the construction of a map and annual data for the country,” concluded Sulaiman.