The desertification and drought that are devastating Sudan today, could be what the rest of the world faces tomorrow, says Malmö University researcher Josepha Wessels, who is currently conducting field research in the country’s capital.

Sandstorms from the Middle East and North Africa may eventually reach Europe; in Sudan, one of the worst effected regions in the world, the climate risks are desertification, extreme droughts, floods, sandstorms, thunderstorms and heat waves. These are expected to become more intense in the future and affect a growing number of cities.

One can be pessimistic, but I'm an optimist. We're all in the same boat.

With her project, Wessels will examine the resilience of citizens and civil society in Khartoum to ongoing climate change with a focus on social cohesion. Ecosystems, environmental challenges and the deterioration caused by climate change will also be analysed.

Wessels and the team of researchers from Malmö University, Lund University and Khartoum University, plan to map out how that population work together to become more resilient towards climate change events and collect stories and memories in close cooperation with the local community.

This will include having residents themselves make films using the cameras on their mobile phones. In this way, the research group wishes to document which places are first affected by climate change.

“What are the citizens already doing? Will this increase cooperation between people or spark conflicts? One can be pessimistic, but I'm an optimist. We're all in the same boat,” says Wessels.

In 2019, large demonstrations led to the forced removal of Sudan’s long-standing dictator, Omar al-Bashir. He was replaced by a transitional government dominated by military personnel, but the new regime promised to hold elections. When the research team got the go-ahead to start the project, none of this had yet happened. Wessels and her colleagues are therefore grappling with a completely new situation in Sudan.

But Wessels is cautiously optimistic, both about the political situation in Sudan and the resilience of the civilian population in the face of climate change. She compares the current situation with her previous trips to Sudan in 2005 and 1995.

“The Sudanese people have really done a fantastic job with the 2019 revolution, and many are working hard to improve their country, despite major challenges. When there is a critical need to combat climate change, people join forces — that is the positive side of climate change. When things get really bad, people start working together. It may even cause them to overcome historical conflicts,” adds Wessels.

Text by: Ellen Albertsdottir