South Sudan Environmental Concerns

By Simon Kulusika

Opinion

Vegetation in unidentified area in South Sudan (File/Supplied/Nyamilepedia)

October 10th 2018 (Nyamilepedia) – South Sudan is facing monumental challenges. The Government of South Sudan (GOSS) is struggling to contain some of the challenges with little success. But the most overlooked challenges the people of SS have been facing relates to environmental damage (ED) or environmental harm (EH), EH will be used to cover ED. EH in SS is occurring in nearly all areas where socio – economic and developmental activities are being carried out. EH has approached levels that could be described simply as catastrophic in several states in SS.

Such a description could apply to areas or states where crude oil exploration and production is taking place. Let alone areas undergoing economic and developmental activities, such as, mining, the construction of dams, bridges and roads. It would appear, from media reports, that exploration for crude oil  and production has resulted in serious EH in Unity state and several neighbouring states in the Greater Bahr al Ghazal and the Greater Upper Nile.

Economic and developmental activities can have adverse impact on the environment and may result in EH. The resulting EH can have serious effects on the environment itself, persons and properties if precautionary measures are not put in place. EH is threatening natural resources, especially lands, wetlands, soil, water – sources, fresh water, flora and fauna of all kinds. EH has also become detrimental to biodiversity of the areas above – mentioned.

Lands are the most valuable natural resources of the people. People, animals, plants and birds depend on lands. Lands can be useful if they are utilized wisely. They can be reduced to waste – lands by harmful human activities, such as oil spills and dumping of hazardous wastes or substances. In areas above – mentioned most lands have been damaged. In these areas people and their herds have driven away from their traditional lands to seek new shelters in far lands where they are rejected as new and hostile invaders.

Wetlands are defined in international environmental conventions as ‘areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, with water that is  static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt.’ They are important because they are habitats to various flora and fauna, especially birds, water – birds and migratory species. Specialists in natural resources consider wetlands very useful in terms of ecology, botany, hydrology and tourism. They are regarded as the most productive environment in the world. They must used wisely. They must be protected from degradation. Sadly, in SS, oil spills and unwise use of wetlands has resulted in EH.

Soil is important for farming especially food production. But soil can be damaged through unwise economic activities. Oil spills can pollute soil. deforestation can result in soil degradation. This is what is happening in the areas above – mentioned. Once soil is contaminated by oil spills it loses its agricultural value and cannot be used by herders for purpose of grazing their animals. The GOSS must adopt measures to prevent soil erosion and loss of organic matter vital for soil preservation in Unity state and other affected states in SS.

Water is life and it must be protected against pollution. Oil spills and dumping of wastes into rivers and lakes can lead to water contamination. If this were allowed to continue it will affect all kinds of flora and fauna. It will also have adverse impact on people and their animals.

Flora and fauna are central in any discourses on EH. They can be protected and conserved if their habitats were preserved, conserved, and protected. The most important habitats for flora and fauna are the wetlands and forests. Endangered plants, animals and birds depend on wetlands for survival in   harsh conditions. The GOSS and each state should put in place ecosystem measures to facilitate the conservation of wetlands as a means for maintaining the ecological character of wetlands.

Such measures will provide means for the protection of flora and fauna in the areas indicated. Oil spills and mishandling of dangerous substances can pose greater threats to flora and fauna than ever before unless oil companies are directed to take precautionary actions to prevent such threats from taking place. Threats to flora and fauna are also threats to biological diversity of the areas above – mentioned.

Oil exploration, mining and mineral operations are important economic ventures that cannot be rejected by the indigenous people.  The construction of dams, the building of express – ways and feeder – roads are necessary for a new nation and all the nations the world over. Dams are important for the generation of power needed by house – holds across the country. Express – ways are gateways to the outside world. Without them how do we export our oil or million of heads of cattle? Feeder – roads connect our villages, towns and cities with one another.

They enable farmers to deliver their commodities to towns and cities faster than ever before. Massive developmental activities are vital for economic transformation. All these activities should not be rejected as some people have done based on misleading claims. These activities are intended to extricate people from poverty, isolation and backwardness. What people must insist upon is that all those activities must be carried out based upon the principles of transparency and sustainable development.

In dealing with environmental concerns in SS, GOSS is obligated to implement the following:

  1. Compensate and resettle people who lost their traditional lands as a result of oil explorations and construction of big dams.
  2. Compel developers to pay compensations to persons who lost lands due to private development activities.
  3. Constitute commission of inquiry to investigate concerns regarding ED or EH and take appropriate actions.
  4. Establish or strengthen the capacity of national environmental protection agency to deal with environmental matters in SS.
  5. Order private companies to put in place precautionary measures for the protection of the environment.
  6. Direct oil companies and other businesses to carry out clean –up of oil spills, noxious substances and harmful wastes to prevent pollution. In the event of extensive pollution of any kinds, the perpetrator company must pay compensations based on the rule ‘polluter pays’.
  7. Ensure that in areas where farming is core economic activity, grazing of herds (cattle, goats, etc) must be controlled through fences made of woods, wires, bricks, or concrete blocks to prevent herds  from roaming widely thereby causing damage to private properties.

The author, Simon Kulusika, is a Professor of Law at Zambian Open University (ZAOU)