Environmental protection a priority for UN staff in Darfur

Tue, 06/06/17

The United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) was established in 2007 as the first joint peacekeeping mission to be run by both the United Nations (UN) and the African Union. Its mandate is to bring peace and stability to the war-torn Darfur region in the West of Sudan and to protect civilian and humanitarian operations while a political settlement is being negotiated. 

One of the priorities for UNAMID’s environmental management programme is water conservation and pollution control. With high temperatures and water scarcity in Darfur, a dedicated water engineering team has been put together to identify potential borehole sites, as well as design and drill boreholes. It is also important that the Mission considers that its own water sourcing and use does not negatively impact the local environment and communities. UNAMID has, therefore, put in place an in-house groundwater monitoring system. The Mission has also constructed wastewater injection wells in the wastewater treatment cycle. These shallow boreholes disperse excess treated wastewater to irrigate tree plantations.  

The Mission is also implementing additional initiatives on environmental management. These include rehabilitation of large capacity waste-water treatment systems and eco-friendly water supply schemes that use solar energy to pump water from boreholes. UNAMID also uses solar energy to power street lights and water heaters within its sites and has established a sanitary landfill to properly manage waste including the collection of leachate and emitted gases.

The sorting of solid waste at source is a priority for the Mission. Organic waste is used for composting, while paper waste is turned into briquettes for fuel and, where possible, packaging is recycled. In order to sustain these efforts, UNAMID routinely trains incoming personnel (military, police and civilian) as well regularly conducts inspections of installations to ensure compliance. All camps have waste compactors and collection trucks as well as medical waste incinerators.

UNAMID also helps to combat desertification in Darfur by growing seedlings in 15 nurseries around the region that are then planted out, bringing a host of environmental benefits. To date, UNAMID has planted more than 350,000 trees in Darfur, including local neem trees, which are drought resistant and have medicinal properties.

Projects like these are part of an effort to further educate local communities on the benefits of conserving the environment.  Among other initiatives, UNAMID trains locals in composting, recycling, hazardous waste management and tree planting. For example, in April 2017 UNAMID has trained 35 youth from the Internally Displaced Persons camps in El Fasher, North Darfur, to recycle water.

Challenges, however, remain in the implementation of UNAMID’s various initiatives. The security situation in Darfur is volatile, which makes it hard for international co-ordinators to move between sites to offer support and advice, and the turnover of local contractors is high, requiring repeated training. Local resources are also scarce, limiting options for outsourcing the various services associated with the environmental management programme.

There are also different levels of environmental awareness among the personnel and the population that give rise to poor participation, particularly in terms of waste management. Further, the nature of the humanitarian relief and peacekeeping programmes in Darfur creates a high volume of packaging and waste due to the provision of ready-to-consume meals. Ultimately, there is a critical lack of human resources to implement UNAMID’s environmental initiatives and the harsh natural environment frequently causes mechanical breakdowns, hampering operations.

However, with the implementation of the new DFS Environment Strategy, UNAMID is hoping that it will overcome these challenges, including through better awareness of UN personnel.

Categories: Energy, Waste, Water