I fully support dredging of Naam River – Baluang

I fully support dredging of Naam River – Baluang
Part of the contentious Naam River. [Courtesy]

Puoth Baluang, the Acting Press Secretary in the Office of First Vice President Dr Riek Machar said he supports the dredging of the Naam River.

Baluang said that its only through dredging the river that the will solve perennial flooding in the area and thus address the matter of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) whose houses are submerged by the flooding in Unity State.

“That’s my personal opinion as a citizen of the state,” Baluang said adding that he was speaking as a private citizen.

“The state has been affected by the devastating flooding,” he added.

His comments add to the opinion of youth who have come to demand teh exercise to go on despite resistance from national government and environmentalists.

The youth argued that dredging of the river will mitigate floods and allow transportation of commodities and petroleum products from Sudan and Unity State respectively.

On Thursday last week, the suspended President of the South Sudan National Youth Union, Gola Boyoi, challenged those who objected to dredging of the Naam River citing negative impacts to back up their claims.

“Some would tell you dredging River Naam in Unity state is a redline, because it will cause a very negative environmental impact on our people’s lives and when you ask them, what are those impacts, they will tell you to ‘go and read’ ” he posed.

“I am not an expert, but let me just tell you two positive impacts: It will help facilitate maritime traffic, and that will enhance our oil production and river transport. Secondly, (it) will help the communities affected by the massive flooding. ”

Nonetheless, the Press Secretary in the office of the President, Ateny Wek Ateny, earlier told Eye Radio that the government had not approved dredging of any water body across the country.

Last week, the Deputy Assistant Foreign Minister for African Organizations, and former Egyptian Ambassador to South Sudan, tweeted a statement indicating that the Egyptian Minister of Water Resources had met three vice presidents, and 12 undisclosed VVIPs, discussing bilateral relations and regional coordination as well as signed an agreement on dredging of Bahr el Jebel (White Nile).

“Awesome finale for a fruitful visit by Egypt’s Minister of Water Resources to South Sudan. The visit involved meeting 3 VPs and 12 other VVIPs. The focus was on bilateral (cooperation) and regional (coordination), with a water station inaugurated and an agreement signed on dredging Bahr el Jebel,” he said in a tweet.

Tense opposition

The debate on dredging rivers and digging the Jonglei Canal became tense when the equipment for dredging the Naam River arrived in Bentiu and was received by the governor of Unity State, Dr Joseph Manytuil.

The Press Secretary in the office of the governor, Peter Bakuony, said the state government’s plan was to reduce flooding, and resettle IDPs into their homes, not necessarily to dig the Jonglei Canal.

The Minister for Information and Communication in Jonglei State, John Samuel Manyuon, said no equipment had been taken to Jonglei State, and Jonglei State’s government had not received any information about such a project.

Last week, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation distanced itself from the project, saying that they only dealt with diplomatic issues and not necessarily water resources and irrigation.

This was after Prof John Akec, Juba University Vice-Chancellor, hit the Ministry with a statement saying, “In a normal situation and such a meeting, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs would be interested to know how a foreign driven project such as dredging of Naam River is going to impact our national interest and national water security.” No?’’

The Minister for Environment and Forestry, Josephine Napwon, said her ministry was not informed about the project, adding that the dredging project should be assessed to find out either benefits or dire consequences which might boomerang later.

Napwon publicly declared the project illegal until the ministry is notified and an assessment is carried out.

“Therefore, since the above process has not commenced, any dredging of rivers is illegal. No project with such a magnitude is to be implemented without the clearance of the Ministry,” she added.

“On resumption of Jonglei Canal to drain Sudd Wetland to mitigate floods, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry will not approve the resumption or completion of the canal because of the ecosystem services that Sudd provides to our nation, the region and the world.”

Prof Jok Madut Jok, the executive director of the Sudd Institute, called the dredging of rivers and digging of the Jonglei Canal resumption of colonialism.

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