Assessment of the environmental impacts of conflict-driven Internally Displaced Persons: A sentinel-2 satellite based analysis of land use/cover changes in the Kas locality, Darfur, Sudan

Abdalrahman Ahmed, Brian Rotich, and Kornel Czimber

PLoS ONE, Volume 19, Issue 5 (2024), Article e0304034


This study examines the effects of settlements of internally displaced persons (IDPs) on vegetation cover in the Kas locality of Darfur, Sudan. The Kas locality is in the South Darfur state, around 86 kilometers northwest of the state capital, Nyala. The estimated population of IDPs in the Kas locality increased from between 35,000 to 40,000 in 2004 to more than 77,000 by 2020.

The study used high-resolution Sentinel-2 satellite images for the years 2016 and 2022 from the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Rainfall and temperature data were sourced from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The images were classified into five Land Use and Land Cover (LULC) classes: vegetation cover, bareland, built-up, agricultural land, and sand. The authors examined land-use changes within 10 km of IDP settlements and between 10 km and 15 km of the settlements.

Main findings:

  • In 2016, agricultural land covered more than half (56 percent) of the study area, while bareland accounted for 35 percent. Vegetation cover and built-up areas had the least coverage, at 3 percent and 1 percent respectively. In 2022, the dominant land cover type was agricultural land, accounting for 65 percent of the study area. Bareland accounted for 28 percent, while built-up areas had the least coverage at 1 percent.
  • Between 2016 and 2022, there was a decrease in the area under vegetation cover, bareland, and sand, while agricultural land and built-up areas increased. The mean annual decline in vegetation cover was estimated at 6 percent, resulting in a loss of 1.7 km2 of vegetation cover per year. Agricultural land gained 16.4 km2 (3 percent) per year.
  • There was a substantial 43 percent decrease in vegetation cover and a 43 percent decline in bareland within 10 km of the settlements from 2016 to 2022. In the 10-15 km zone, there was a 35 percent decrease in vegetation cover and an 18 percent decline in bareland during the same period. Additionally, built-up areas increased by 103% in the 10-15 km band around the settlement, indicating rapid urbanization or infrastructure development. Agricultural land increased by 17 percent within 0-10 km and 18 percent within 10-15 km around the settlements. Sand coverage decreased by 38 percent within 0-10 km and 51 percent within 10-15 km around the settlements.

The authors conclude that the loss of vegetation cover in the Kas locality of Darfur is primarily caused by the presence of IDP settlements. The increase in IDPs has led to an expansion of agricultural activities to meet their food demands, resulting in the conversion of vegetated areas to agricultural land. While climatic variations also play a role in the changes in land use and land cover, their impact is minor compared to the direct impacts of IDPs on the environment.