Dredging the Nile tributaries will not solve rising food prices in South Sudan

By Agereb Leek Chol, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA

To whom it may concern:

Government of South Sudan (GoSS, Greater Bor Community, Atuot Community, Aliap Community, Bahr el Ghazal Community, Nuer Community, Shilluk Community, Yirol Community, Mundari Community, Murle Community, Equatoria Community, Ngok Community, Misseriya Community, and South Sudan Youth.

April 3, 2012 (SSNA) — It came to my attention that Egypt’s company has begun their project to dredge Nile tributaries this month. William Gatjang Gieng, Unity State Minister of Environments and Natural Resources in Unity state, said “that the teams from the Egyptian company are working to deepen the river to allow more boats to transport goods and people. One team will dredge the Naam River from Rubkotna junction in Unity State to Lake No just north of the Sudd swamp, where the Bahr el Ghazal River meets the River Kiir. Another project will start from Wetmachar Achol in Wau, the capital of Western Bahr el Ghazal State, to Wangkeay Bridge “(Borglobe). The question is what are the advantages and disadvantages for this project to the Sudd Wetlands in South Sudan? It should be apparent that Egyptian government will take any opportunity to increase the Nile water flow by drying up the wetlands since Jonglei Canal scheme failed during the civil war. 

It is obvious that South Sudan depend on food transported from Kenya, Uganda, and Sudan. I wonder why South Sudanese are reluctant to farm nowadays. Perhaps insecurity and the new found wealth from oil is derailing agricultural production. John Kudusay once asked in his song, “who is the UN”? He says, “the UN is like us. He’s born like us and then he goes to school. After finishing school, he then go around the world and help those who need help”. It would be nice everyone in South Sudan had this mentality. “The government hopes that improving river transport will allow goods and services to flow more freely and make it easier to trade and do business” (Borglobe). Despite the rise of food prices in Unity state, is this project necessary to spend 26.6 million dollars instead of building better roads in South Sudan? Why rush and clean the Nile River knowing South Sudan and Sudan have many issues that can return both countries to war? God forbid the SAF will not use the Nile River to attack the Republic of South Sudan if both countries were to return to war.

The attempt to dry up the Sudd in South Sudan was first envisioned by the Britain and Egypt government who jointly ruled Sudan in the 1930s. This project came be known as Jonglei Canal. The goal was to provide 20 million m3 of water per day to Egypt for agriculture use. “The project would shrink the wetlands by approximately 40%. A second phase for the project was also planned, which would completely dry up the wetlands” (Allen, 2010). However, this project never materialized until it was resurrected in the 1970s by Nimeiri government. Nimeiri believed that the Jonglei Canal would facilitate “national development” in South Sudan. Obviously, Nimeiri had no intention to develop South Sudan. Despite the opposition by politicians from South Sudan, Jonglei project proceeded. Lucky, the SPLA derailed the construction by destroying the equipment sometimes in 1983. “The Sudd Wetlands, located in Southern Sudan, is one of African’s largest wetlands (30,000-40,000 KM2, formed from the spillage of water from the Nile. The wetland supports a diversity of ecosystems with a reach flora and fauna” (IWMI), 2008).

Who will be affected if sudd wetlands dry up? 

The Dinka, Nuer, and Shilluk pastoralists tribes depend on the sudd to graze their livestock, and for farming during dry seasons. Not only that, Sudd provides enormous fish production for local people who live in rural areas. In fact, if it wasn’t for these swamps during Sudan’s civil war, majority of civilians would have starved to death. There is no doubt if the Sudd wetlands dry up, South Sudanese will have to transport fish from neighboring countries. I would argue that if were not for sudd wetlands, the Sudanese Armed Forces would have weakened the SPLA because they could have easily navigated through the Nile River by boat. The question is what will these tribes do when these areas dry up? Perhaps the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) is tired of the killing caused by cattle rustling. Clearly, if these areas dry up, Sudd wetlands will experience a decrease of rainfalls and an area about 30,000 square kilometer will become a desert. Can the GoSS afford the sudd wetlands to dry up so the Nile River is passable by boats?

Secondly, the GoSS can’t ignore the vegetation and ecosystem that would be lost if this vast region becomes a desert. The question is what will happen to 400 species of birds and animals that rely on these wetlands? There is no doubt these species will die, and the Nile River will never be the same again. In 2008, Kenyan wildlife tourism was around 70% of Kenyan total revenue. The Sudd wetlands is a potential tourist destination if the GoSS invest their time instead of letting the Egyptian government exploit their vulnerable position.

In conclusion, the GoSS needs to stop this project immediately because it will change many lives in South Sudan. The GoSS need to look at the long term affects instead of relying on short term solutions. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the catastrophe this project would cause to many species in South Sudan. I hope bribery didn’t influence the minister’s decision. What’s the difference between Jonglei Canal and dredging of the Nile River? Why can’t the GoSS use 26.6 million dollars to connect many roads in South Sudan instead of relying on the river for transportation? Why can’t the government use these funds to develop agricultural production instead? Until the Nile water agreement of 1929 is abolished by the riparian countries, the GoSS needs to be careful because the Egyptian government doesn’t serve the interest of South Sudan.

The minister should consult external experts who have no interest in the Nile River. Secondly, Sudd wetlands need to be surveyed first to understand who will be affected by the project. If the GoSS allow this project to continue then why not let the Jonglei Canal resume. Lastly, I urge the Dinka, Nuer, and Shilluk tribes who rely on the Sudd wetlands to alert their governors, commissioners, and their chiefs to alert the government about the disaster this project will do to the ecosystem. This project will affect these tribes in the short term, but the entire country will regret this in the future. Failure to act will lead to water wars within South Sudan years from now. The Dinka and Nuer will no longer have “toch” to graze their livestock during dry season. The Nilotic cultures will be lost, and everyone will have to move to ‘modern cities’ and abandon the so-called “backward society”. Maybe this is one way to uproot the Nilotic culture indirectly. Most importantly, fishing will be limited unless one has modern equipment to fish in a ‘deep Nile’ River. Let’s not have rising food prices influence our decision. This problem can be solved easily if everyone gets their act together by holding their constituents accountable. We can’t keep saying if Dr. Garang de Mabior was alive today, South Sudan will be a better place. There is no doubt if he was alive, things might be different, but mourning him every day will not do us any good! Dr. Garang de Mabior and his comrades emancipated South Sudanese from Bashir’s regime, but now it’s our turn to carry on the torch. Wake up Southerners, this project will turn the Republic of South Sudan into a desert. It’s not too late to stop this project.

This author is a concern citizen. He can be reach at [email protected]

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