To dredge or not to dredge: ecologists weigh in on Sudd

To dredge or not to dredge: ecologists weigh in on Sudd
Bird’s eye-view of the Jonglei Canal. [Photo: The Independent]

The contentious proposal to dredge rivers and tributaries of the Nile and the Sudd wetland has elicited a mix of positive and negative emotions across South Sudan.

Winnie Rufas of the South Sudanese Geological Society is one of the inhabitants of South Sudan who oppose the project. She claims that dredging the Jonglei canal would damage the ecosystem and harm the region’s economic development.

“Personally, I don’t think it’s a good idea. When the canal is excavated, there will be a drought, and the area will be dry, and this will have an impact on our ecology, as well as on us as humans because we rely on water. Water is essential to the development of our society and economy,” she said.

Ajak John Ateng, the head of the South Sudanese Geological Society, expressed doubts about the project and warned that dredging the Jonglei Canal could kill the country’s biodiversity.

 “We are losing out because the water will in the end go into drought and not only that, our wildlife will go. There will be migration of this wildlife to neighbouring countries. So those are the bad things that we will get when the water is gone and when the Jonglei canal has been constructed.”

Ajak John Ateng however said the dredging project could have a few positives stressing the likely impact on controlling flooding 

 “These areas are experiencing continuous flooding… so, the only solution to water is to construct dykes not for the Jonglei canal to be constructed. Another goodie is that insecurity in the areas where the Jonglei Canal has been proposed. But insecurity cannot be controlled by the Jonglei Canal.”Ateng said 

However, it is not clear who imported the dredging equipment into the country, but last week, Lam Tungwar Kueiwong, the Unity State minister of physical infrastructure, lands, housing, and public utilities, confirmed the arrival of machinery from Egypt to dredge and open River Naam.

Tungwar said the project had been approved by the national ministry of irrigation and water resources in Juba.

Declared illegal

This week, the minister of environment and forestry, Josephine Napwon, denied knowledge of how dredging equipment was transported into South Sudan and the likely reopening of the Jonglei Canal. She stressed that dredging any river is illegal.

 “I don’t think that the state government will carry on the project without the national government being involved especially the ministry of environment to do an assessment. We are here to protect the environment and anything that endangers our environment, we will not accept as a ministry,’’ he emphasized 

Recently, Ateny Awek Ateny, the President’s Spokesperson told the local media in Juba that the President’s office did not approve of any project concerning the cleaning of the Nile tributaries.

He said that President Salva Kiir was unaware of the arrival of the river dredging apparatus or the project, and had never been informed about it.

The debate over the project to dredge Nile Rivers and Tributaries and the Sudd Wetland began months ago when Taban Deng Ghai urged for the resumption of the Jonglei Canal to “avoid flood disasters” in the Jonglei, Unity, and Upper Nile states.

VP Taban Deng Gai argued that “waterways should be established to avert displacement caused by flooding” by restarting the digging of the Jonglei Canal.

The Minister of Environment and Forestry however told the media that her ministry will not approve the resumption of dredging of the Jonglei Canal. 

last for a long time, and it will be able to save South Sudan and other mini-states.