South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir Mayardiit has suspended all dredging activities on Nile tributaries following opposition within his government, environmentalists and activists over the deal with Egypt.
Mr Kiir’s order put to end weeks of public debate sparked by the arrival a month ago of a 21-truck convoy from Cairo with dredging equipment, which brought to light the agreement signed in April last year.
The President said environmental studies on the project’s impact on the communities and ecosystem must be done before any dredging of the Naam River and resumption of the Jonglei canal project.
“In the last few weeks, the country has been engaged in an emotive debate over the issue of dredging the Bhar-el-Ghazel basin, especially the Naam River. In this debate, the contending sides have put forward legitimate arguments both for and against dredging.
“For example, those who support dredging see it as a permanent solution to floods in the low areas. Others in some groups see it as a means of opening our waterways for river transport that will ease transportation bottlenecks in the country,” said Mr Kiir during his address on the country’s 11th independence anniversary on July 9.
He added: “On the other side of the debate, dredging without proper studies is viewed as a path to an ecological disaster that will change South Sudan’s biodiversity forever.”
He noted that after following the arguments keenly, he “realised the outcry from both sides came because we have not conducted informed public consultation that addresses the concerns.”
The 30km canal project involves dredging and aquatic weed control in the Bahr el Ghazal basin and creating landing spots along the canal.
While some argue it would mitigate the perennial floods that displace thousands in Unity State, others say the project will only benefit Egypt at the expense of South Sudanese.
President Kiir stressed that evidence-based studies on the impact of the activities on the environment, communities and ecology of the Sudd region be carried out by competent persons.
He ordered the Environmental and Forestry ministry to engage experts for the feasibility studies.