Juba, South Sudan – A petition to halt the revival of the 118-year-old Jonglei Canal project in South Sudan, launched by one of the country’s leading scientists, is gaining strength in the country, the waterway is touted as a catastrophic environmental and social disaster for the Sudan wetlands.
This follows from a number of calls by the South Sudanese government to restart the project to prevent floods and improve the region’s infrastructure. The country’s vice president has already announced plans to conduct a feasibility study in hopes of putting the non-existent canal into operation.
Vice Chancellor of the University of Juba, Professor John Akek, launched a petition on social networks “Save the Sudd” with the intention to send it to the President after completion. Akts’s petition has already garnered tens of thousands of signatures out of the required 100,000.
Previous research has shown that the canal will have serious consequences for the fragile ecosystem of the Sudd region, including negative impacts on aquatic, wild and domestic plants and animals, and interfere with the agricultural activities of people in the region, potentially displacing them.
FILE – A woman carries a bucket on her head as she makes her way through flood waters in the village of Van Chot, Old Fangak County, Jonglei County, South Sudan, November 26, 2020.
“We will not have enough water and it will dry up, and if it dries up, all the livelihoods associated with the area, including fishing, resettlement and grazing, will be lost,” Akets told The Associated Press.
“Water is more expensive than oil, diamonds and gold,” Akets said. “Let’s wake up and stop stealing water and destroying our ecosystems and Egypt’s economic future.”
The canal, first proposed by British engineers in Cairo in 1904, will divert water from the Sudd wetlands to deliver 10 billion cubic meters (2.6 trillion gallons) from the Nile to lower Sudan and Egypt. Plans began in 1954, but 30 years later the project was halted and is now at a standstill. About 270 kilometers (168 miles) of the total 340 km (150 miles) of canal have already been excavated.
Earlier this year, one of South Sudan’s vice presidents, Taban Deng Guy, called for a resumption of the canal project to prevent flooding in Jonglei and Unity State.
Floods have led to widespread livelihoods, severely hampering households ’ability to support their livestock. Traditional coping strategies and sources of income are more unsuitable for many communities.
FILE – A father and his sons transport cows from a flooded area to drier land using a canoe dugout, in Old Fangak County, Jonglei County, South Sudan, November 25, 2020.
“We have never had enough food as farmers, but now floods have destroyed our farms. Water is everywhere, ”said Martha Ahol, a farmer and mother of six, who spoke about the floods in Jonglei.
Another local farmer, 60-year-old Dan Lighthouse, agreed. “Then we had enough food, but today we don’t have enough,” he said.
Meanwhile, the countries of the Nile basin are experiencing water shortages due to the effects of rapid population growth and climate change, which again arouses interest in the canal project.
South Sudan’s Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Manawa Peter Gatkuot said the project would also pave the way for infrastructure, agriculture, river transport and tourism. Gatkuot requested approval and budget from Vice President Rick Machar’s office to launch the channel.
But environmentalists are concerned about the disturbance of the delicate balance and life cycle of the Court. Dan Mayok Chol, Ph.D., Ph.D. at the Institute for Environmental Change at Oxford University, argues that the ever-increasing floods are only small fluctuations over the long millennial cycle of the Court.
The amount of precipitation caused by water evaporation in the Court will be significantly reduced if the canal project is implemented and the green areas risk becoming dry and arid. There are fears that even those living outside the Court region, as well as in lower Sudan and Egypt, will be adversely affected.
The environmental and social impact assessment warned that the canal project “will irreversibly or partially destroy ecosystems downstream”.
“The current calls for the resumption of the Jonglei Canal project demonstrate an inability to observe and learn from global trends in water management issues exacerbated by global warming,” Mayok said. “There is no need for a rocket scientist to view these steps as a bait strategically designed for more than a century of exclusive control over how Nile water is used.”
FILE – Residents park their canoe kayaks next to a mud dam they built to prevent flooding in New Fangak, Jonglei, South Sudan, December 25, 2021.
Economic and climate problems have also sparked opposition to the canal.
“The economic value of the Wetlands is estimated at $ 1 billion annually, and this will be lost if the wetlands are drained,” warned Niall Tiitmamer, director of the Court’s Institute for Environment and Natural Resources.
Titmamer added that Sudd’s wetlands are migratory transition points and corridors for bird species that migrate between Europe and Africa each year, and some of these birds are classified both in South Sudan and internationally as species that are endangered.
He warned that the project would “exacerbate climate change by reducing carbon sequestration, as well as through carbon emissions as a result of wetland destruction.”