Traversing the East
The pot-holed road stretches along to the horizon, and on either side of it an expanse of flatness extends. Not a hill, nor even a rise, in sight, seemingly going on for ever. These were the vast agricultural plains of Gedaref State, en route from Ed-Damazine to Kassala.
Eastern Sudan is plagued by drought and is chronically food insecure, the World Food Program puts malnutrition rates consistently above emergency levels. The previous day I had been visiting health centres and hospitals, on assignment for UNICEF, covering their nutrition projects there, seeing malnourished children receiving new treatment as part of UNICEF’s work in the region.
But this was fertile land through which we were driving. The vast plains of land here are part of the largest agricultural area in Sudan. They used to grow enough sorghum to export to neighbouring Ethiopia; now Sudan is importing from Ethiopia, fields left bare. Something is going wrong.
At times, we would wait as impossibly thin cattle crossed the road, driven by the pastoralists struggling to make a living. Tokuls occasionally appeared by the roadside in isolated communities. This was the most green I had seen for a very long time, having become habituated to the arid desert that surrounded Khartoum.
Stopping at the Sudanese equivalent of a service station, tea ladies in wooden shacks plying their trade, a storm was rolling in behind us. As we continued towards Kassala, the force of the climate here became suddenly apparent. Without warning, torrential rain engulfed the desert, flooding the make-shift shelters that lined the road. Fifteen kilometres later, and less than twenty minutes drive, a haboob whipped sand and dust across the road—and our windscreen—turning the sky orange. Granted, the agriculturalists have a hard time cultivating this environment.
It was now a race to reach Kassala before night-fall, the Taka mountains for which the city is famed, shrouded by the sand-storm in the darkening sky.
» See more photos from Eastern Sudan.