We did not okay dredging of River Naam – Govt

We did not okay dredging of River Naam – Govt
The Minister of Environment and Forestry Josephine Napwon Cosmos. {Photo: Sheila Ponnie]

The national government said they did not okay the dredging of contentious Nile tributaries, including Naam River and Sudd swamp.

Josephine Napwon Cosmos, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry said Wednesday that the government did not procure any machines from Egypt, to dredge Naam River in Unity State.

“The council of Ministers did not approve the project of this kind; it has to be a project of the government. It is the government of South Sudan and the people of South Sudan to approve of such a project,” Cosmos said in a press conference.

Last week, heavy machinery including an excavator arrived from Egypt via Sudan to dredge the river. This was not taken lightly by a section of environmentalists who are also fighting against a similar plan by the Egyptian government to dredge Jonglei Canal.

Cosmos, however, affirmed that no talk took place between Juba and Cairo contrary to an earlier statement by Unity State’s Minister of Physical Infrastructure, Lands, Housing and Public – Lam Tungwar Kueiwong, that the two governments agreed on the plan.

The Naam River saga opened up the thorny debate of the dredging of Jonglei Canal, a project that was started, but never completed, and whose key intention was to divert water from the vast Sudd wetlands of South Sudan, to deliver more water downstream to Sudan and Egypt for use in agriculture.

First proposed in 1907 by Sir William Garstin the construction of Jonglei Project between 1954 and 1959, but was later halted in 1984 following the outbreak of civil conflict led by the late John Garang.

Jonglei Canal, a project that was first initiated by the Egyptian government has been a thorny issue with a section of environmentalists warning its full implementation would deny South Sudan, especially the community along with the proposed project, the natural resources.

Philip Ayuen Dot, an environmentalist warned that if rivers and canals are dredged without proper environmental assessments, South Sudan will be on the losing end.

“Changing water flow with little respect for the pastoralists, fisherman, and general people of South Sudan who now profit from the Sudd wetland is disastrous and scary,” he said.

Dot added: “the project should not be allowed to continue until a proper environmental assessment is done to ascertain its merits to the people of South Sudan.”

 Cosmos, however, also stressed the need for assessment and consultation.

“We need to do an environmental impact assessment because we all own the Jonglei canal and it is one of the rain catchment areas.”

She added that the government is doing everything possible to control the flooding that has for decades been synonymous in the area.