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Presidency divided over when to dredge rivers

Author: Emmanuel Akile | Published: Friday, July 15, 2022

Three Vice Presidents have opposed President Salva Kiir’s decision to suspend all dredging-related activities until an environmental impact assessment is conducted.

They include the First Vice President, Dr. Riek Machar, and Vice Presidents for economic and infrastructure clusters, Dr. James Wani Igga and Taban Deng Gai respectively.

The decision was made after environmental experts and scholars at the University of Juba called on the government to first carry out an environmental and social impact assessment before dredging the Nile tributaries.

Last week, environmental experts and academicians at the University of Juba called on the government to first carry out an environmental and social impact assessment before dredging the Nile tributaries.

The forum that was organized by the University of Juba brought together environmental experts and academicians who presented research papers on the advantages and advantages of dredging.

Politicians, lawmakers, and hundreds of University of Juba students took part in the open discussion.

In his address to the nation on the 11th Anniversary of Independence, Kiir stated that in the last few weeks, citizens were engaged in an intense debate over the issue of dredging the Bahr el Ghazal basin and the Naam River.

According to the presidents, those supporting it see dredging as a permanent solution to persistent floods in low-lying areas, while others think it would help open waterways for river transport and ease transportation.

However, those against dredging the current flooding are due to the climatic change and the situation temporarily.

They believe that dredging without proper studies is a path to an ecological disaster that will change South Sudan’s biodiversity forever.

The ani-dredging, according to the president, fears the loss of marshlands which are the lifeline of different animal species and it means livelihood for our fishermen.

President Kiir said they also oppose dredging on the basis of adverse environmental concerns and the anticipated loss of economic livelihoods.

“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 community and their ecosystem,” President Kiir said.

“I am directing the ministry of environment and forestry to initiate the process of identifying and eventually hiring a credible expert who will carry out the SUDD feasibility study.”

Prior to the suspension, the office of the President said the leadership was not aware dredging machines were shipped into the country.

The project was targeting the Bahr el Ghazal basin and Naam River, last year.

But on Thursday, during the public consultations on water management, the First Vice President said the dredging was approved by the council of ministers.

In what appeared to be in disagreement with President Kiir, Dr. Riek said Dr. Riek Machar said President Salva Kiir had chaired the September 2021 cabinet meeting which gave the dredging a green light.

“The rumors that you are hearing that the Presidency or the Office of the President did not know about the dredging, this is false,” Dr. Machar said.

“He, the President was the one seating on the Council of Ministers, it wasn’t me who is the next person,

“The resolutions are always told to the public by the spokesperson of the government, that is Michael Makuei, if he is away, then the Minister of Cabinet Affairs,

“We want to correct things, the public may have concerns about the dredging, have we cleared them?

“I believe the doctor from the University of Juba has cleared the matter and the rest of us have also cleared the matter. These institutions are scientific institutions,

“You don’t use us as a rubber stamp to say stop dredging. None of us here – ministers – none of them has said that, stop it.”

Dr. James Wani Igga is the Vice President of the Economic Cluster.

He believes clearing the river will help rescue the lives of citizens in flood-affected areas.

“The main reason why we need this dredging is, I agree with those who say that we have to rescue your people from floods because they are dying in front of us now, now not tomorrow,” said Dr. Wani Igga.

“May be 60 percent displaced, in Bentiu maybe 50 percent now displaced, and we think that we shouldn’t wait until all the sciences of the world are finished,

“We come to rescue them from drowning, ahh, that would be very insensitive of us, Death is death, it cannot wait, you rescue life,

“The aim, therefore, is not only to reduce the flooding, but it is also to create navigation for us. Transport, we just want to remove the sand and the mud that has been around there.”

For his part, the Vice President for Infrastructure Cluster, Taban Deng Gai said the planned clearing of the Nile river was the government’s project.

He said this will ease the movement of people and goods via river transport and demanded that the implementation start immediately.

“Please, the three ministries, the environment, water, and then transport, three of you please, just form your technical committees to Bentiu. Let them go and assess,” said VP Taban.

“Go and see the machines, are they really sophisticated or they are just normal machines and then you take over,

“When I was the governor of Unity state, they [equipment] were brought to me, I was told they were a donation from Egypt, I saw them they were very good equipment. It is just the same excavator, they use it for cleaning.”

Last week, a world-renowned expert on the Nile waters called on South Sudan to stop the dredging project saying it is not in the interest of South Sudanese.

Professor Tag Elkhazin who has over 50 years of experience in water resource management said the government will otherwise be committing treason against its citizens.

Elkhazin advised that South Sudanese debate carefully on the matter before embarking on the project.

This is because he said, it is in the interest of a foreign country, not South Sudanese’.

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