By Patrick Godi
Upper Nile Youth Development Association (UNYDA), a civil society organization with focus on Environmental and natural resource governance in South Sudan has highlighted the looming effects of climate change in South Sudan.
In a workshop organized in Melut county of Upper Nile State to increase knowledge on climate change and environmental issues affecting the country particularly the oil producing areas.
The organization has urged the government and citizens to seize the moment and have meaningful conversations around climate change since it’s no longer a theory but a life reality in many areas in the country manifesting through persistent flash floods, long droughts, famine among many other effects threatening the existence and livelihoods of citizens.
The Executive Director and Environmentalist, Mr. Charles Onak called for greater governmental efforts in combating Climate Change and Environmental degradation in the oilfields like Palouch where there are alleged cases of poor disposal of industrial waste and contamination of water points amplifying health concerns by locals and experts.
The over 30 participants in the awareness training enumerated challenges they’re currently facing and the need for urgency in finding reasonable solutions to mitigate the effects of climate change in South Sudan.
One of participants Mr. Monyaw said “climate change affected our areas a lot of floods with unknown diseases especially livestock and agriculture affected by floods. The solution can be done by government to minimize the pollution of air”.
The youth representative Mr. Junob commented “the climate change affected our areas bringing many floods and some diseases affected especially children that why we need it to be solved by planting trees and government to consider building dams to store the excess water”. Meanwhile the women representative said “20 years ago we didn’t experience like what we are facing now the rain can rain normally and we can farm and our crops can grow normally now we experience heavy rain and floods destroying many villages in Melut and has displaced many people from 6 payams and life has become difficult because of the issues of shelter and food”.
Environmental safety measures are often neglected in South Sudan’s extractive industries. Recently there have been concerns about the risks communities living near oil fields are exposed to especially given the devastating floods of 2021 that persist up to now. There is an alarm that the poor disposal of petroleum waste may contaminate drinking water sources. Sign of Hope, a German NGO has recently reported that its research on water contamination has confirmed its worst fears saying, “the water was polluted with a witches’ brew of heavy metals, salts and other noxious substances. The source of these was quite obviously the local oil fields”.
Health hazards associated with the drilling of oil in South Sudan has not been given a serious consideration by the government and oil companies despite many years of advocacy by locals and environmental activists. Reports of unusual death of animals, still births and deformed babies continue to remain unresolved. And no significant measures have been taken by companies drilling oil to protect communities from negative effects of oil production.
The dialogue is part of empowering local communities to understand the laws on Environment and petroleum, and to build stakeholders capacity to promote citizens voices in decision making on petroleum management.
The meeting concluded with strong recommendations for the government to minimize pollution and degradation through enacting Environmental laws and promoting the use of green energy like solar, planting of millions of trees, and solving the floods though construction of dams and water reservoirs on the Nile.
Chapter IV, article 4.9 of the 2018 Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCISS) provides for environmental protection and compels the government to develop comprehensive policies and legal institutional frameworks for the preservation, conservation and sustainable use of the environment. However new institutions like the Environmental Management Authority which would play a central role in this mandate are yet to be formed.
Upper Nile Youth Development Association (UNYDA) with support from Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA) has been training civil society leaders, government officials to raise awareness on Environmental and petroleum laws including the Petroleum Revenue Management Act (PRMA) 2012, Petroleum Act 2012, Health, Safety and Environmental (HSE) Regulations, and local content regulations to enhance the capacity and knowledge of civil society leaders on the petroleum legislations to increase information sharing, learning, and as well provide a collective voice to ensure accountable and responsive natural resource governance sector.