How many more killer powerlines are there in Sudan?
Africa is powering up rapidly. Governments’ urge to develop economically and attract investments is immense. This push also involves countries along the Red Sea/Rift Valley Flyway Region including Sudan, where millions of migratory birds could be dying due to electrocution and collisions with electricity cables in an expanding power sector.
A preliminary report from recent surveys in Sudan has revealed that eight bird species have been mostly affected by the powerlines. These include Black Kite, Lesser Kestrel, Common Kestrel, Yellow-billed Kite, Abdim’s Stork, Grayish Owl, White-backed Vulture and Pied Crow. The surveys were conducted in Al Gazeira, Al Gadarif and Kassala States in June/July and December 2015, as well as January 2016. The powerlines surveyed in Kassala State proportionately recorded the highest number of birds killed. These surveys were commissioned through the Migratory Soaring Birds project of BirdLife International funded by GEF/UNDP.
Owl (presumably Tyto spp.) carcasses, Al Gadarif State © Ibrahim Hashim
In Al Gazeira, Al Gadarif and Kassala States, 988, 2120 and 383 poles were covered respectively in the survey. Individual numbers of birds killed along powerlines were 47 in Al Gazeira, 209 in Al Gadarif and 96 in Kassala. While keeping in mind that some of the dead birds could have already been scavenged upon, this translates to at least one bird being killed between every 10 electric poles within a short duration of time. Among the dead birds, 57 were killed through collision with powerlines and 295 killed by electrocution. A total of 278 deaths of migratory soaring bird individuals were recorded, hence, the most affected group.
Earlier in 2013, BirdLife International in collaboration with the national project Partner, Sudanese Wildlife Society (SWS), organized a stakeholders meeting which involved the Sudanese Electricity Transmission Company (SETC) to create awareness on the Port Sudan “killer line” that had killed hundreds, perhaps thousands of Egyptian vultures Neophron percnopterus since its construction in 1950. The Port Sudan powerline has since been insulated. Further awareness has been done through World Migratory Bird Day events in the country supported by BirdLife.
The issue of bird deaths through energy infrastructure interactions in Sudan however remained a topic of interest from both the power utilities and the conservation community in Sudan. SETC has complained of interrupted power supply due to birds, whereas BirdLife and SWS aims at a sector reconciled with biodiversity conservation. The scale of the bird deaths remained unknown and it was difficult to arrive at any recommendations in addressing the problem. It was therefore, for this reason that a joint survey mission between SWS and SECT was deemed necessary.
The powerlines surveyed were of 33 kV and 11 kV types. They traverse habitat comprising 91% agricultural land, 7% residential area and 2% forests. With no tress for roosting available, birds perch on powerlines and get electrocuted, especially at higher elevation power structures. From the results of the survey, the effect of powerlines on raptors deserves attention: 57 Lesser Kestrels Falco naumanni, 29 Common Kestrels Falco tinnunculus, eight Red-necked Buzzards Buteo auguralis, five White-backed Vultures Gyps africanus and two Levant Sparrowhawks Accipiter brevipes were killed.
The results of this survey have been shared in a national workshop held on 17th May 2016. The workshop came up with the following recommendations, among others: a strengthened joint approach between SWS and SETC for greater results; more in-depth Environmental Impact Assessment studies and wider stakeholder involvement to ensure power sector development that guarantees safety for birds; more environmental awareness among the electrical engineers; immediate remedial measures to avoid more bird kills from existing powerlines; mainstreaming conservation considerations particularly of migratory soaring birds and the flyway in energy projects and programmes.
Such recommendations when implemented, would certainly deliver a win-win situation in Sudan and help the country in fulfilling her national and global mandates as enshrined in the international conventions such as Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and Convention on Biological Diversity.