On 3rd September 2021, South Sudan government signed MoU with Egypt government to dredge Nam River in Unity State and possible resumption of digging Jonglei Canal. This comes as results of deadly floods which hits most part of Upper Nile Region e.g Bor, Akobo, Fangak and so forth. Particularly, floods hits Unity State in earlier 2019 in Panyijiar County, spread rapidly in 2020 throughout 2021 and 2022 to Mayendit, Leer, Koch, Guit, Rubkotna and Mayom counties — inclusively. A significant amount of population has been displaced by floods from above locations. Human lives were lost and animals died. There were no rescue plans (emergency disaster response strategies) puts in place by National government — if available, not widely broadcast and put in actions. The State government was struggling to help relocate and support displaced population with little funds they mobilized.
In June 2022, Unity State government received consignments from Egypt which was planned for dredging Nam River. As stipulated on MoU signed by two countries, their aims was to remove silts, papyrus reeds and other riverine blockages to allow Nam River accommodate sufficient water; channel flood water into river, open waterways and ease river transportation.
Below are the primarily sources of the floods in Unity state:
Cloudfree Sentinel-2 SWIR mosaic
Mixed Reactions Over Clearing or Dredging of Nam River
Citizens were having different views over the clearing or dredging project. Some were supporting the project on the concern that it will channel flood water into the main river and also open waterways to ease river transportation. Others were calling for halting of the project until scientific studies are conducted. Both groups disliked Egypt as service provider on half-truth that Egyptians are not trusted partners.
The Confusion Over Word “Dredging” and “Clearing”
The two words were so contradicting in the debates. Analyzing all commentaries, it seems citizens were denoting approval with “Clearing of Nam River” instead of “Dredging Nam River”. There might be need for clarity on dredging as planned by government. Dredging is defined as removal of sediments and debris from the bottom of lakes, rivers, harbors, and other water bodies.
Over the debates, most citizens says if government’s plan is to clear the riverine blockages, it won’t have major impact. The main concern was over dredging as the described it was process of deepening and widening the river.
The Project Seems to be Politicized
One thing I notice during the debates is that most people’s calls is to block the entire project because they don’t like Egypt as service provider and damaging of ecosystem. The concern people felt that people are against them and not against Egypt. Thus, it does not meant that the concerned people doesn’t care about the environmental impact, but the situation switched to lives saving which needs immediate intervention. It shouldn’t be halted for half a year, which exactly is going to happen. The project can still live while changing the service provider and implement the project. As matter of fact, others are not sympathizing on the current conditions of displaced population, none is giving credible solutions in mitigating the floods. Always, emergencies are treated as urgent and paid immediate attention unlike the situation in Unity State which took three (3) years and more, yet nobody is talking about it. Some mitigation might include dredging local lakes and relocation of displaced population while providing support etc..
It’s heartbreaking seeing some citizens mocking the suffering population — it melts heart indeed.
The Game of Throwing Tantrums
During the debates, those whose concerns is over suffering of displaced population and calls for rescues resisted emotional outburst from the people who are against the project on pretext that scientific studies should be conducted.
I quoted the following statements from both high-profile intellectuals and figurehead politicians:
“Serious misconception in unity state is for citizens of that state to think Naam is theirs; and can do with it as they wish. Not unlike the chest telling the head, arm, and legs that it own the heart. Need to ask where Naam originated from or where it is going”. ~ Prof. John Akec, Vice Chancellor, University of Juba.
“We citizens should be people of right decisions not of emotions. Cleaning the Nile after being covered up by soil and rubbish is the responsibility of the government towards safety of citizens from diseases and flooding but some citizens seemed not to understand the explanation’’ Our rivers are totally blocked up by rubbish and sand. Most ships that transport people and goods from Kosti are now stuck and blocked up in Mangala due to the blockage of the passage with this, it may require real cleaning which we term it as dredging of the Nile’’. ~ Dr. Wani Igga, Vice President of Republic of South Sudan
President Suspended Dredging of Nam River
On July 9, 2022, when President give public speech to nationwide during celebration of 11th Independence Day, he gave directives of suspending any planned dredging activities.
To allow our citizens to participate in the consultation process without emotions, I am today freezing any planned dredging activities in the SUDD region until credible, professional evidence-based studies are carried out on the impact of dredging both on the surrounding communities and their ecosystem. To this effect, I am directing the Ministry of Environment and Forestry to initiate the process of identifying and eventually hiring credible experts who will carry out the said feasible study.President’s directive
The government signed MoU and imported dredging equipment for planned dredging. Questions I would love to ask:
1- So, government didn’t conducted environmental assessment before approving dredging project?
2- Does the government have Disaster Management Strategies and rescue plans in place following the devastating floods which submerged some part of country?
People already perceived that this project is politicized because it is halted and no action plans outlined in helping the displaced population. And how government could best help in mitigating the floods which submerged almost 90% of the land.
The suffering of the displaced population in Unity State is heartbreaking. It has taken three (3) consecutive year in row. Accounting to 90% of the land is under water, no farming or enough dry places for living. People lost lives, their properties and animals. It’s high time for National government to come forward and rescue displaced population in Unity State.
I supported Nam River clearing on the following socioeconomic benefits:
1- Open waterways to ease river transport. This will help in transporting goods and medicines to the affected population. Riverine transport is common in every country that has rivers, it boost economic through commercial activities.
2- Remove riverine blockages. At moment, Nam River is shallow and does not store sufficient water. Clearing the river will accommodate more water.
3- Nam River tributaries connections. Nam River face challenges in supplying its tributaries with sufficient water. Opening the river will allow fast-flow of water into the blocked tributaries.