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Back swamps of the Blue Nile and its tributaries, Sudan
General Introduction:
Sudan is the third largest country in Africa. It comes after Algeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Its total area amounts to 1,861,484 square kilometers. Sudan lies between latitudes: 8°37' 25″N, and 23°11' 09″N and longitudes: 21°41' 02″E and 38°35' 51″E.

The country lies wholly within the tropics, and is generally divided into three ecological zones. According to Harrison and Jackson (1958), these zones are desert, semi-desert, and low rainfall woodland Savannah (fig.2).This diversification of ecological zones and the presence of River Nile and its tributaries have shaped the way of living of the rural people from nomadic to fully sedentary communities. About 80% of the population depend on agriculture for their livelihood.

The total population of the country has reached 30,894,000 inhabitants, about two thirds of the population live in the rural areas (Central Bureau of Statistic (2008). This means that most of the people depend on biodiversity components in sustaining their livelihood.

A wide variety of habitat types, in the Sudan, are classified as wetlands including: rain pools, seasonal rivers, Khores (Creeks), lakes, coastal lagoons, mangroves swamps, Coral reefs, Mayas, flood plains, haffirs, reservoirs, crater lakes, etc..

Wetlands have direct values such as production and consumption of goods and services (fish, water, medicinal, raw materials), and indirect values such as ecosystems functions and services: water quality, flood control, and nutrient retention, etc. They also provide a wealth for non-consumptive values e.g. cultural, aesthetic and heritage values.

Wetlands make significant contributions to poverty alleviation as they cut across the traditional sectors. The wetlands ecosystems and their adjacent riparian habitats perform important ecological functions as source for water resources, flood storage, erosion control and sediment trapping. They provide tremendous economic benefit e.g. water supply, fisheries, agriculture, maintenance of water and nutrient retention in flood plains, timber production, energy sources, wildlife and biodiversity conservation, transport, recreation and tourism opportunities. They have special attributes in supporting cultural diversity.

They are important component of drainage system and hydrology. Moghraby (2001) stated that the routing effect of the wetlands on the seasonal flows of the tributaries of the Nile is the factor that brings about the steady and even flow of the main streams.

They are crucial for most natural production systems: El Seem, Wadi el Mugaddam, Wadi el Milk and El Bashiri Oasis are Government driven agricultural schemes.

They are national assets for development (Khor Abu Habil, Al Gash and Baraka are the lifeline arteries of their regions). The nomadic pattern of livestock grazing is greatly influenced by wetlands. Socio-economic and cultural patterns and way of life of nomadic or transhumant tribal groups all over the Sudan are dictated and governed by patterns and dynamics of productivity of wetlands. In urban centers brick making for buildings is practiced along the Nile and its tributaries where deposits of sediments are used and are usually replenished by the annual floods. Fishing and basin cultivation are important economic practices in the Nile reservoirs and mayas.

Sudan Country Study on Biodiversity (2001) considered wetlands as a crucial element for biodiversity conservation. Wetlands conservation is considered as the most important issue in the sustainable management of biodiversity in the Sudan.
In an arid country like the Sudan wetlands provide hugely important benefits of both an economic and social nature for communities, livelihoods and agricultural and forestry development, beside the critical role in maintaining the quality and diversity of the natural environment. Wetlands could play a crucial role in peace building and avoidance of conflict.
There are at least 13 distinct types of wetlands. Examples include:
  • Oasis (eg Nukhaila). The Nukhaila Oasis is located in the extreme north western part of Darfur. Is distinguished by the presence of Nukhaila Lake having an area of 800 x 300 meters, and its water is of moderate salinity. The Lake in spite of its salinity and its location in the northern desert is showing interesting biodiversity presenting savanna species. The presence of the rear aquatic crustacean (Artemia artemia) deserves special mention. It is subjected to sand encroachment at a rate of 4 meters per year, (Nimir, 1998).
  • Riparian forests: (eg. Khartoum Sunt Forest ). In the junction of White Nile and Blue Nile or Mogran area in Khartoum City. It is the location of White Nile Birds Sanctuary (established in 1939). Acacia nilotica grows best under seasonal inundation provided by the regular annual flooding of the two Niles. It sustains large populations of sedentary and migratory water fowl and other bird species.
  • Back swamps (Known locally as " Mayas"), along the Blue Nile river and in the protected areas
  • Coral reefs, mangrove Creeks, bays and lagoons, sea grass beds, small off-shore islands (Red Sea coast). Sudanese Red Sea Coast extends for about 750 km including bays and inlets with unique diversity of habitats. They are important wetlands habitats: Coral reefs, mangroves, bays and lagoons, sea grass beds, small off-shore islands. They are significant coastal sites for birds and other terrestrial wildlife.
  • Lakes (permanent and seasonal lakes).
  • Man-made Wetlands (Dams and Canals, haffirs, pools).

Detailed Description of the Pilot Wetland Ecosystem

Back swamps of the Blue Nile and its tributaries:

Back swamps (" Mayas") formed due to the meandering of the river and to the nature of water flow, erosion and deposition processes. They are the most prominent features and are critical to the survival of the wildlife of the national parks (e.g Dinder and Radom N. Parks). The Acacia nilotica mayas are distinctive feature of the Blue Nile in the Sudan. They are responsible for the continuity of both primary and secondary productivity of the river (Moghraby 1975).


Fig. (2): Back swamps in Blue Nile River

a- Geographic location:
Acacia nilotica riparian forests are scattered throughout the Blue Nile and its tributaries The Blue Nile originates from the steep mountains of the Ethiopian Plateau and has a total length of 1,450 kilometers (900 mi), of which 800 km in Sudan The Blue Nile River, which originates from the steep mountains of the Ethiopian Plateau, is the major source of sediment loads in the Nile basin. The Blue Nile at its end part at Sudan has 2 tributaries Rahad River and Dinder River, where Dinder National Park (DNP)is found adjacent to Sudan the border with Ethiopia.
DNP boundaries follow the Rahad river at latitude 12 26 N and longitude 35 02 E continuing in a north western direction up to latitude 12 42 N and 34 48 E at River Dinder. It further continues up to latitude 12 32 N and longitude 34 32 E along Khor Kenana. It then diverts slightly to the south east, to latitude 11 55 N and longitude 34 44 E, to be enclosed by the Sudan- Ethiopian border. Elevation: (At Ethiopian plateau topping 3133 m asl. Range from 515m asl at the south-eastern to 100 m asl at north- eastern reaches of the park in the Sudan). DNP’ area is 1.084.600 hectares. Because of its geo-physical location, the DNP lies along the transition ecotone zone between two floristic regions; the Ethiopian high plateau and the arid Saharan- Sudanian biomes. The park also lies along the boundary of two major faunal realms of the world i. e the paleoartic and Ethiopian region and an intermixing of the two faunal zones takes place, adding to the diversity of the floral and faunal communities.



b. Climate and hydrology:

– Climate:

A wholly tropical and a predominantly continental climate characterizes Sudan. The climate is characterized by two seasons: the hot and humid rainy season (May-November) and cool and dry season (December-March). Butting and Lea (1962) associate the rainfall of the central Sudan with that of the West African System, which is derived from South Atlantic and Congo air masses, with little or no Indian Ocean influence. The isohyets run from west to east until they turn first to northeast and then east and southeast, around the Ethiopian highlands. DNP therefore lies in the zone of northeasterly winds, in which rainfall decreases to the northeast. Consequently the decrease in the mean annual total is of the order of 30mm for every 20 km and this decrease in rainfall is the main reason for the marked zonation of the vegetation of the Park. The northeastern part of the Park has the least rainfall (600-800mm), which gradually increases with distance towards the southeast of the park (800-1000mm).

The most effective rains in case study area start in May in the southeast and in June in the northeast part. The normal rainy season is from May to November. The peak is in August. During the rainy season, the maximum temperature is approximately 30oC and the minimum is approximately 20oC. As the rains gradually subside, the temperature also gradually rises until it reaches a maximum of 36o C. On the other hand, the relatively cool months of December, January and February are followed by a general rise in temperatures that average 38oC in March, with an average humidity of 60-65%. The maximum temperature sometimes exceeds 40oC in April and May and then drops suddenly by the first rains of the new season

– Hydrology:

The Rahad and Dinder rivers are the largest tributaries of the Blue Nile. They both drain parts of the Ethiopian highlands. They have nearly the same lengths, identical hydrology and comparable volumes of annual flows. River Rahad flows through the northern boundary of DNP, while the Dinder River flows through the centre of the Park.

The catchment area of the Dinder River is around 16,000 km2 and has average annual discharge of about three billion cubic meters. The channel traversing the Park ranges from 150 to 400m in width and is one to nine meters in depth. The river has a seasonal character. It starts surging in June, peaking around the middle of August each year. It ceases flowing sometime in November. The sandy riverbed, thereafter, is left with numerous pools, some of which may retain water throughout the dry season.

These are wetlands (meadows- back swamps -mayas) found along the flood plains of the rivers. They have been formed due to the meandering character of the channel and the nature of flow of its waters. They occupy low-lying basins, meanders and oxbows. They are generally crescent shaped with slight and /or no clear banks.

The hydrology of the mayas is not very clear and more in-depth studies are required. (Abdel Hameed et al, 1999). Mayas vary in area from less than 200m2 up to 4.5km2. Their use for grazing has been extensively studied by El Tom (1982), Abdel Hameed (1983), Hashim (1987) and others. They have been, consequently, classified as productive and non-productive habitats, based on their carrying capacities and water retention potential.

The work of Abdel Hameed et al in 1996 and 1999, on the hydrology and drainage systems of the Dinder River and its tributaries forms a strong baseline to any further investigations. Ali (2001) has recently looked into the hydrology of the Park. Runoff is a coefficient of rainfall. It is suspected by many that Global Warming might induce a decrease in rainfall over Ethiopia, in the magnitude of 15%. That would be interpreted into a 30% decrease of river discharge. It should be remembered that the Ethiopian highlands contribute as much as 84% to the total annual discharge of the Nile system. As it stands today, the Dinder River is going through a trend of decreasing volume of annual discharge. The trend seems to have persisted throughout the past 20 years. In the 1970s the annual volume of discharge of water was around 3 billion cubic meter. It has declined to around 2 bcm. In 1985 it was down to 0.6 bcm (Abdel Hameed et al 1996).

c. Land cover and land use


Throughout the Blue Nile System there is no land scarceness. Village land, under all different uses including cultivation, is under communal tenure. Crops are produced under shifting cultivation practices, whereby a land holding is cultivated for a number of years, after which it is left to rest. Meanwhile a new plot of land adjacent to the old one is put under cultivation which is usually done by felling of trees and clearance of land. But most of the back swamps are Acacia nilotica forested areas with grasses used as pasture by livestock herders and also traditional farms. The main crops cultivated in this area are sorghum (Dura), sesame, beans, pumpkins, okra and cucumber. Other crops include maize and groundnuts. Farmers care more for securing their stable food crop, so that sorghum ranks as their staple crop. There are other activities that include tree felling, rope making, bed making and some fishing in mayas and bird capturing in ponds.


Ecosystem services current status
  • Back swamps have distinctive environmental, social and economic values.
  • Bird-life is generally rich along the whole of the Nile, which constitutes one of the main routes of migration to and from Africa.
  • The wetlands provides a refuge for a large number of migratory birds.
  • Dinder lies on the route of migration of African wintering birds during their pass to eastern Africa Rift valley lakes or southward. Due to the variety and nature of Dinder’ wetlands, about 250 species are identified, many of them are migrants. It holds the largest population in the world of the tufted Guinea fowl (Numida meleagris) (about one million) depend on the major wetlands (HCENR- WRC, 2001).
  • Acacia nilotica forests provide an important breeding habitat and support the many population of migratory and resident bird species.
  • Back swamps are responsible for the continuity of both primary and secondary productivity of the river (Moghraby 1975).
  • They are source of water and of the most nutritious grasses to the herbivores (wild and domestics) especially during the most severe part of the dry season.
  • They are rich in their ichthyofauna and are a major breeding ground for the endemic species of fishes, amphibians, water dwelling insects and micro fauna.
  • They are crucial element for biodiversity conservation. DNP is an island of a diverse array of fauna and flora of the region which support biodiversity that is not found elsewhere in the region
  • Fishing and basin cultivation are important economic practices in the Nile reservoirs and back swamps.
  • Brick making for buildings is practiced along the Nile and its tributaries where deposits of sediments are used and are usually replenished by the annual floods.
  • There are about 40 mayas and pools formed by meanders and oxbows along the Rahad and Dinder rivers drainage systems in DNP
  • Most of the back swamps are local communities' traditional cultivation farm
  • The habitats of the flood plain, depression, mayas and pools along Blue Nile system are rich in their ichthyofauna and are a major breeding ground for the fishes, amphibians, water dwelling insects and micro fauna which greatly enhance the biodiversity of these wetlands.
  • The back swamps are important because they are source of water and of the most nutritious grasses to the herbivores (wild and domestics) specially during the most severe part of the dry season.
  • The back swamps also protect endemic species which live in the region and numerous kinds of fishes and insects.
  • DNP is an island of a diverse array of fauna and flora of the region which support biodiversity that is not found elsewhere in the region ; some are endangered classified as conservation dependent by IUCN), as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List), and cited on CITES Appendix II

Involved beneficiaries and Stakeholders:
The stakeholders and beneficiaries of the back swamps include nomadic pastoralists and settled animal raisers, traditional rain-fed and gerif cultivators, mechanized rain- fed farmers, charcoal makers, firewood collectors, collectors of other minor forest products, poachers, fishermen, and craftsmen.
DNP is bordered by three States: Sennar, Gedarif, and Blue Nile. The lands of the three states surrounding the park are under the authority of the state government. But the land of the park is owned by the National Government. The Magano population is an endogenous population in the park. Agricultural lands at the flood plains of the system, near to the villages and towns, are owned by local tribal leaders who assume the responsibility of land distribution.
The stakeholders include government authorities such as Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Irrigation, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Water Resources, Wildlife Conservation General Administration, Ministry of Tourism, Antiques and Wildlife, National Forest Corporation, and Higher Council for Environment and Natural Resources.

Challenges facing the ecosystem
  • Acacia nilotica forests are facing tree felling for their economic values for construction and furniture.
  • There are many problems and threats to the ecosystems and biodiversity of DNP. These problems and threats are all related to various human activities by the communities living around and within the park and also by those who are living in large towns.
  • These activities, especially grazing, cultivation, trees felling, poaching, and fire setting tend to reduce the nutritional quality of wildlife forage, and to reduce biodiversity; that is, put in jeopardy the very function of the wetland ecosystem in the park.
  • Balance between Socio-economic values and conservation towards sustainable development and wise management
  • Soil erosion from the upstream of the basin and the subsequent sedimentation in the down- stream area is an immense problem threatening the existing and future water resources development in the Nile basin.
  • The impact of Grand Ethiopian Reconnaissance Dam (GERD)
Other problems and threats to Wetlands:
  1.  Horizontal expansion of agricultural
  2.  Urban development in wetland areas
  3.  Loss of vegetation covers and increased sedimentation.
  4.  Pollution from agricultural disposal of industrial effluent.
  5.  Construction of dams and bridges are conducted with little concern for environmental impact and mitigation measures.
  6.  Lack of coordination between stakeholders

Current ecosystem management practices
  • All Acacia nilotica forests fall under the responsibility of National Forest Corporation at the Federal level and Forestry Departments at the State level.
  • The wildlife resources including the protected areas in their various forms in the country are being managed by the Wildlife Conservation General Administration (WCGA).
  • The Administration falls fully under the Ministry of Tourism, Antigens and Wildlife and under Ministry of Interior and has the mandate to uphold law and order in the protected areas of the country. The existing Wildlife law of 1986 is the main legal code for wildlife conservation in the country. The law acts as a management tool whereby in some articles provision of powers to the wildlife personnel have been authorized to eliminate any wild animal damage to livestock in the surrounding villages.
  • The law serves tourism by provision of guidance and protection. It allows promotion of the research activities in the parks.
  • The law and also the Environmental law (2002) prohibits any activities that could make destruction in the ecosystems.
  • Dinder also a Biosphere reserve (BR) under MAB Programme of UNESCO since 1979, and recently the concept is fully accepted including the objective of sustainable development in the transitional zone where local communities are settled, To be integrated in the management of the park. The management plan aims to:-
  • Long-term sustainable conservation of biodiversity in the park by encouraging species and habitat conservation and maintenance of the park as a coherent system.
  • Long-term sustainable management of the Transition Zone through the integration of the local communities living inside and along the borders in the sustainable utilization and management of the natural resources of the park.
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