| Measuring drought and drought impacts in Red Sea Province |
|3. Drowght, food stress, and the flood and rainfall record for Red Sea Province. Roy Cole|
Despite the variability of precipitation in Red Sea Province, pastoralists and agropastoralists have relied on certain characteristics of the terrain in the province as insurance mechanisms. The principal insurance mechanism are the khors themselves, the focus of almost all rural economic activity. Just as it was said above that without the influence of the Red Sea Hills there would be no winter rainfall, it can be said that without the khors there would be no life in Red Sea Province.
Agriculture is not found outside the stream beds or alluvial fans and pastoralism is reliant on perennial and annual vegetation produced and maintained by annual inundations of the khors. The watershed acts as an enormous catchment that makes the most of spatially dispersed rainfall by channelling it to human users near the central course of the khors. As Evanari (1979) found in his study of ancient and modern water harvesting in the Negev, 10 mm of annual rainfall is enough to grow tropical fruit trees if the catchment area is 30 times greater than the area of cultivation. This is the principal behind land use in Red Sea Province. Furthermore, the vegetation in some large khors (and some small khors, particularly in the mountains) in Red Sea Province does not experience annual drought; the trees (and sometimes the grass) are always green because of subsurface water supplies.
Only in years of extreme and persistent drought or where there are other intervening variables does the insurance system break down, as it did in the Khor 'Arab basin in 1983-84, the place where destitute people were found crowding along the Port-Sudan Khartoum road begging for food in 1985, or in the coastal (and presumably, mountain) areas around Suakin and Port Sudan. Destitute people from these areas settled in Suakin, Port Sudan, and around Tokar town.
Although drought cannot be held responsible for the entire burden of misery shouldered by many people in Red Sea Province during the middle 1980s, it is a causal factor. Other factors which played a significant role in extending the misery during the early 1980s were principally economic inflation and, to a lesser extent, lack of economic diversification, and isolation. Of primary importance during the famine of 1984-85 was inflation of cereal prices and the turning of the terms of trade of livestock to cereals against livestock This inflation might have been meaningless if, with the exception of the Tokar Delta, local production in interior and coastal Red Sea Province had not collapsed for two years running. This was exacerbated by low production elsewhere in the Sudan. The economic impact of these factors in conjunction with drought are first felt by people who have a reason for being poor: single parent households (divorced or widowed women), families with unemployed or aged heads of household, refugees, and the incompetent.
The late mid to late 1980s brought a more promising outlook to Red Sea Province. It is unfortunate that no data are available from the National Water Corporation for 1988, a year of unprecedented rainfall and flooding. The National Water Corporation was not able to field their watershed monitoring teams because of the financial crisis in the Sudan. It is clear that flooding was probably two or three standard deviations above the mean throughout the province in 1988. The rainfall for the 'Atbara station. located at the confluence of the Nile and 'Atbara rivers, was almost 3 standard deviations above the mean and Kassala's was one standard deviation above the mean.