Can we turn that water into a source of economic security?
The word Sudd, as in the name of our nation, has two meanings. One is a boundary and the other is a swamp. In point of fact, during the wet season in normal years, forty percent of our nation is under water. Of course, this year the rains were heavier than normal, and climatologists predict that heavier rains will become the norm for our country as the earth’s climate changes. This raises some important questions: Is all that water a blessing or a curse? How should we deal with that water? Can we turn that water into a source of economic security? As we deal with that water, how do we continue to respect those of our communities which are based on life within a swamp or marsh?
The flow of water out of our nation is primarily into the White Nile and from there to Sudan, Egypt, and then the sea. Those two other nations need that water, especially now while Ethiopia is holding back so much of the Blue Nile to fill the lakes behind their great new dams. The current war in Ukraine adds even more urgency to Cairo’s need for water for agricultural irrigation along the river. No wonder the leaders in Cairo and Khartoum are reaching out to Juba. That outreach has included offering to build a fancy hotel, build housing for our embassy personnel in Cairo, and start a bank in Juba; these are ideas that will enrich politicians in Juba and do little for the rest of our people.
That water, while a difficult plague at the moment, can be turned into an economic resource. If we can control and meter the flow of water, we can expect reasonable compensation from Egypt and Sudan and we can expect that the United States, with its goal of reducing conflict between Cairo and Addis Ababa, would also be willing to not only chip in but also guarantee that compensation. This means that instead of a few quick projects, a plan for national economic development based on water as a valuable natural resource could be developed.
The current Consultation on Water Resources and Development taking place in Juba offers no such long-term plan. Indeed, that process was only initiated when it was discovered by the public that dredging machines were being brought into our country to dredge our rivers and perhaps resume the Jonglei Canal. In other words, they had been brought in to allow Egypt increased access to the water of the White Nile. Yes, dredging and cleaning our rivers is a good thing and perhaps the canal should be finished, But the needs of Egypt should also help fill the needs of South Sudan.
If we do not take control of the water engineering, or the river dredging and canal building, the water will still end up in the Nile. There is no alternative. The difference will be that we will have flooding and desperation as the water floods our country before getting to that great river. With proper engineering, we cannot only monitor the water and therefore talk in terms of sale but we can also divert some to maintain our reservoirs, use some for water-intensive agriculture and aquaculture, and make sure that those of our communities that are built on symbiosis with the swamps can continue their ways of life.
We need to have a team of hydrologists, engineers, agronomists, etc. working for our country to design the best possible system of water use and movement and we need experts to help us choose new crops and products for our farmers and to help us install the processing and
transportation systems that make our country a major food exporter. Sadly, the great natural resource of petroleum that we had when our country was founded has been wasted. The oil has been sold and our country has little to show for the sale. We have guns with which to fight one another, fancy cars with no roads to drive on, and electronics with no electricity. Such a sad waste.
Now, we are sitting on another natural resource: WATER. If our country is going to prosper, to have an economic system that knits us together, to have importance in the world around us, we must use that water to create the investments in real and usable physical and human capital that we need. It is time for us to take control of this natural treasure and to use it to build a better South Sudan.
~Deng Mayik Atem
Publisher of Ramciel Magazine