Century-old canal project sparks opposition in South Sudan | world news

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By DENG MACHOL, Associated Press

JUBA, South Sudan (AP) – A petition to stop the revival of South Sudan’s 118-year-old Jonglei Canal project, started by one of the country’s top academics, is gaining traction in the country, the waterway being touted as a catastrophic environmental and social disaster for the country’s Sudd wetlands.

This follows a series of calls within the government of South Sudan to revive the project to prevent flooding and improve infrastructure in the area. The country’s vice president has already announced his intention to conduct a feasibility study in hopes of making the old canal operational.

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Juba, Prof. John Akec, started the social media petition “Save the Sudd” with the intention of submitting it to the President of the country when completed. Akec’s petition has already garnered tens of thousands of signatures out of the required 100,000.

Previous research has shown that the canal would have serious impacts on the delicate ecosystem of the Sudd region, including negative effects on aquatic, wild and domesticated plants and animals, as well as interference with the agricultural activities of the inhabitants. of the region, potentially displacing them.

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“We won’t have enough water and it will dry up and if it dries up all livelihoods related to this area including fishing, resettlement and grazing will be lost,” Akec said. at the Associated Press.

“Water is more valuable than oil, diamonds and gold,” Akec said. “Let us wake up from our slumber and stop Egypt’s water theft and destruction of our ecosystems and our economic future.

The canal, first proposed by a British engineer in Cairo in 1904, would divert water from the Sudd wetlands to carry 10 billion cubic meters (2.6 trillion gallons) from the Nile to Sudan and Egypt downstream. Plans began to take shape in 1954, but the project was halted 30 years later and is now at an impasse. About 270 kilometers (168 miles) out of a total of 340 km (150 miles) of the canal have already been dug.

Earlier this year, one of South Sudan’s vice presidents, Taban Deng Gai, called for the resumption of the canal project to prevent flooding in Jonglei and Unity states.

The floods led to a widespread collapse of livelihoods, severely hampering the ability of households to care for their livestock. Traditional coping strategies and sources of income are no longer viable for many communities.

“We never ran out of food as farmers, but now the floods have destroyed our farms. There is water everywhere,” said Martha Achol, a farmer and mother of six, who recounted the struggles inflicted by the floods in Jonglei State.

Another local farmer, Mayak Deng, 60, agreed. “We had enough food then, but today we don’t have enough,” he said.

Meanwhile, Nile Basin countries are experiencing water scarcity due to the impacts of rapid population growth and climate change, prompting renewed interest in the canal project.

South Sudan’s Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation, Manawa Peter Gatkuoth, said the project would also create opportunities for infrastructure development, agriculture, river transport and tourism. Gatkuoth sought approval and a budget from Vice President Riek Machar’s office to launch the channel.

But conservationists fear upsetting the Sudd’s delicate balance and life cycle. Deng Majok Chol, a Ph.D. candidate at the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford, argues that the continued increase in flood events is just a small fluctuation within the Sudd’s longer millennial cycle.

Rainfall caused by water evaporation in the Sudd will be greatly reduced if the canal project goes through, as green spaces are likely to become dry and arid. It is feared that even those living beyond the Sudd region, as well as downstream from Sudan and Egypt, will be negatively affected.

An environmental and social impact assessment warned that the canal project would “irreversibly or partially destroy downstream ecosystems”.

“Current calls for the resumption of the Jonglei Canal project demonstrate a failure to observe and learn from the global trend of water management challenges aggravated by global warming,” Majok said. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see these moves as bait, strategically calculated toward a goal of more than a century of exclusive control over how Nile water is used.”

Economic and climate concerns have also prompted opposition to the canal.

“The economic value of the Sudd wetlands is estimated at $1 billion a year and this will be lost if the wetlands are drained,” warned Nhial Tiitmamer, director of the environmental and natural resources program at the Sudd Institute.

Tiitmamer added that the Sudd wetlands are migratory transition points and corridors for bird species that annually migrate between Europe and Africa and that some of these birds are classified as both South Sudan South and internationally as endangered species.

He warned that the project would lead to an “exacerbation of climate change through the reduction of carbon sinks as well as the release of carbon dioxide resulting from the destruction of wetlands”.

The Associated Press’s climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. Learn more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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