South Sudan suspends dredging of Naam River and Sudd Wetlands

JUBA – The President of South Sudan on Saturday ordered the suspension of all dredging-related activities in the country until evidence-based studies are conducted on their surrounding communities and the ecosystems they depend on.

Salva Kiir Mayardit’s announcement, which was made during his speech on the occasion of the 11th anniversary of the country’s independence, means that the dredging project on the Bahr el Ghazal-Naam river, approved by the cabinet l year, and the centennial Jonglei canal project will now be stopped.

In May, the Unity state government received dredging material for the Naam River project from Egypt, saying it would reduce flooding that has displaced thousands of people in the state. It drew heavy criticism from environmentalists, citizens and activists who said the plan would spell environmental and economic disaster, drying up the country’s White Nile and Sudd wetlands on which farmers and local wildlife depend. .

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But government officials, including South Sudan’s vice presidents, have argued that the dredging process will help open up the rivers to economic activity and help alleviate flooding that has affected most of the country. South Sudan has experienced extreme flooding for the past three years, with 1.2 million people affected by floods across the country.

“The opposing parties have made legitimate arguments both for and against dredging,” Kiir said in his speech, adding that project feasibility studies are paramount.

On Friday, environmental experts and academics from the University of Juba called on the government to carry out an environmental and social impact study before dredging the Nile tributaries. Tag Elkhazin, a Nile expert, equated South Sudanese support for the dredging project with betrayal.

“Stop dredging, it’s not in your interest, it’s in the interest of a foreign country,” Professor Elkhazin said during a virtual presentation on the Jonglei Canal and water resources at the South Sudan. Elkhazin said other countries along the Nile, such as Egypt, would benefit from dredging projects that divert more water upstream.

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Elkhazin added that flooding is seasonal and should not be a reason to drain tributaries of the Sudd, which would have an everlasting environmental impact. Academics and local water engineers have also accused the government of allowing dredging to continue without consulting the general public.

President Kiir set up a 40-member public consultation and outreach committee on the Sudd region and the White Nile to discuss the best options for flood and water management. He said a decision on the plans, backed by citizens on both sides of the debate, will be made once the committee publishes its findings.

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