To: H.E. President Salva Kiir Mayardit, The Republic of South Sudan.

From: Deng Majok Chol, DPhil Student, Oxford University, School of Geography, and the Environment.

Date: April 7th, 2021.


Dear President, Salva Kiir Mayardit,

This cover letter introduces you to the memo below that concerns the Sudd Basin and the Egyptian potential interest to revive work on the Jonglei Canal.

Mr. President, as you know as well as I do, the canal project was first proposed in 1904 and partially implemented 74 years later. Despite strong opposition from Southerners to the project, the Nimeiry Government gave the Egyptians approval to dig the canal, but the SPLA stopped it at 240 km on its 360 km distance to meet the Bahr El Jebel.

The main purpose for this memo is to offer counsel to your Government. Respectfully, Egypt should not be given approval to either revive the canal or dig a new canal until scientific studies reveal the impact digging any canals, dams or large artificial lakes will have on the natural-human systems, i.e., inhabitants and their livelihoods, wetlands’ hydrology, and the local environments.

Expert studies in the fields of hydrology, environmental science, climate science, water engineering have shown that any major physical development and management of the Sudd will need to be preceded by scientific research. South Sudan can then avoid any unintended long-term destruction to local livelihoods, fragile ecosystems, and the environments. At a minimum, an impact-based approach will ensure the country does not inadvertently destroy the magnificent wildlife her citizens are so proud of, and which makes up our national identity.

Considering my interactions with environmental engineers, water engineers, economists, ecologists, and hydrologists, as well as from my own research and experience with the Sudd, I am absolutely convinced that any development of the Sudd, including work on the Jonglei Canal, should not be pursued until some credible climate simulation scenarios and hydrological modelling studies on the Sudd have been completed. This approach will help South Sudan avoid irreversible environmental harms and maximize all benefits from the Sudd for social and economic development of South Sudan.

Such research studies will help stakeholders understand the complexities of the Sudd wetlands. Indeed, the Sudd is a unique environmental phenomenon and a hydroclimatic treasure. It is one of the world’s largest freshwater ecosystems, providing livelihoods to millions of citizens, and serving as a home to thousands of species of organisms, birds, and mammals. At the same time, the Sudd extreme weather events are a key source of seasonal flooding and sporadic droughts.

In the memo I addressed to you below, I have included an overview of the Sudd hydro-climatological complexity and the kinds of scientific research needed for the sustainable development and management of the Sudd Basin under climatic variability and change.

Sir, thank you for your attention to the Sudd, a key landmark of our beloved country.

Yours very truly,
Deng Majok Chol


To: H.E. President Salva Kiir Mayardit, The Republic of South Sudan.

From: Deng Majok Chol, DPhil Student at University of Oxford, The School of Geography, and the Environment.

Date: April 7th, 2021.

Re: An Overview of the Complexity of the Sudd Basin:

Dear President, Salva Kiir Mayardit,

Reference is the Sudd and the Egyptian potential interest to revive work on the Jonglei Canal.

Mr. President, South Sudan’s lungs, the Sudd, needs to be managed for the survival of the population and economic viability of South Sudan. the Sudd, if managed properly, is the greatest economic asset South Sudan can develop to stimulate economic growth for the entire country. Sudd water resources are more precious and economically rewarding than the country’s petroleum sector.

From your remarks during the joint press conference with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt in Juba on November 28th, 2020, and your more recent speech in Jonglei State Capital, Bor Town on April 2nd this year, I can say you are as deeply concerned as I am regarding the ongoing unprecedented levels of flooding in the country. You are right to warn the populations in the Sudd Basin that “flooding events have not ended.” As millions population continues to depend on the local environments for their survival, they will remain one of the world’s most vulnerable groups to worsening climate change and variability.

The Sudd hydro-climatology is more likely to increase in complexity manifested through natural catastrophe for the rest of the twenty first century. It is most likely that recent largescale flooding events are linked to both heavy rainfalls and rising water levels in the Nile Equatorial Lakes that feed the Bahr el Jebel and the Sudd Basin. These increasing heavy downpours in South Sudan and the rest of East Africa are attributable to Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), a coupled ocean and atmosphere phenomenon that is increasingly resulting to warmer sea surface temperatures in the western Indian Ocean region. Moreover, hydrological variability and extreme weather events in South Sudan are compounded by the seasonal shifts in the location of Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) over the Equator. Additionally, global warming is exacerbating the effects of these climatic phenomena, and as a result, the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events (both droughts and floods) in the Sudd Basin is more likely to persist.

However, the hydrological variability (both floods and droughts) of the River Nile system demands long-term or “permanent” solution” as you declared. This current generation is equipped with the education, skills, and technology necessary to provide answers to current calls for help, and solutions to centuries of the impacts of the fall and rise of the Nile and the Sudd.

As you know well, the Sudd is both a key source of livelihood for millions of South Sudanese that live within the Sudd Basin and a home to one of the world’s largest freshwater ecosystems. The Sudd is a massive and complex environmental phenomenon that has existed over time and space for millennia. It provides life to many creatures, surviving in fresh water from precipitation, and enriched by vegetation, the food chain, fertile soil, green pastures, and a regional water cycle.

Paradoxically, on the other hand, Sudd extreme weather events have been sources of impediment to sustainable socio-economic development because of their inherent inevitable floods and droughts during the wet and dry seasons. The flooding has forced climate migration, food insecurity, and water borne diseases resulting to further pain.

However, it is feared that any non-scientific-based water resource development scheme of the Sudd will have the potential to cause its disappearance. And sadly, in its absence, the entire area will dry up and lose fresh water, thereby causing instant deforestation. Consequently, the human populations living within the vicinity of the Sudd will face imminent death and displacement. Furthermore, any water policies based on non-scientific studies of the Sudd can lead to a disappearance of the Sudd’s rich ecosystem, resulting in a loss of magnificent wildlife, and the possible extinction of several species of aquatic mammals, fish, organisms, vegetation, green pastures, and fertile soil, all of which are unique to the Sudd habitats. This latter point was recognized by the UN in 2006 in its declaration of Ramsar site within the floodplains of the Sudd.
The main problem is no longer the oversimplified evaporation “loss” of the Sudd waters and the need for the communities within the basin to be shaping and coping with disruptive change of the unpredictable impacts of non-scientific based infrastructure intervention. The key issue is the uncertainties of the changing environment, characterized by exceedingly hydrological variability of the River Nile System coupled with climatic impacts (both floods and droughts). Unless South Sudan prioritizes the latter, it will be putting the cart before the horse.

The Jonglei Canal, or conceptual Sudd Canal, artificial Lake, Dams, and water reservoirs should not be considered without simulations of future climate scenarios and hydrological modelling of the Sudd Basin water resources. Otherwise, how else would one base construction of these large physical infrastructures as adaptation options?

The typical human or society approach to fight the threat of water is to impose infrastructure, but to do that without modelling future prediction of the Sudd hydrological variability could result to uncertainties with long-term climatic impacts on societal livelihoods, local environments, and ecosystems not only in the current generation but also in the subsequent ones.

The Sudd hydro-climatological phenomena need deep scientific thinking and research, not just on the science of water use, but also on the socio-cultural dynamics that rely on it.

The kinds of studies needed will focus on the climatic simulations that can predict the impact of climate change on the hydrology of the Sudd Basin some years ahead. Such research will focus on a deeper understanding of the implication of hydrological and ecological effects on human livelihoods, vegetation, animal species, and the ecosystem services. Such studies will also simulate scenarios of how socio-technical intervention could impact hydraulics of the Sudd.

To demonstrate rare sensitivity, fragility, and complexity of the Sudd ecosystem as a unique environmental phenomenon, any attempt to manage, alter, or develop the Sudd should first and foremost be preceded by findings from climate simulation scenarios and hydrologic modelling of the Sudd. This approach should also apply to Bahr el Ghazal and Machar wetlands.

Mr. President, once again, thank you in advance for your attention to the Sudd Basin, one of the most valuable treasures of our nation.

Yours very truly,

Deng Majok Chol
(The author is writing from Oxford, Uk)

DPhil student, University of Oxford, School of Geography and the Environment.
Topic: South Sudan’s Lungs: Sustaining the Sudd Under climate and Socio-economic Change.


Deng holds MPA from Harvard University; Global MBA from George Washington University; Bachelor of Science in Political Science and Economics from Arizona State University.

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