OPINION – South Sudan is blessed with various ecosystems, from huge wetlands such as the Sudd wetland, to forests, rivers and lakes, streams and the savanna grassland. These are important ecosystems as they provide everyone with a livelihood in one way or another. However, if they are not taken care of well, they become degraded and thus are hard to inhibit let alone to earn a living from. It is for this reason that ecosystem restoration is important.
Ecosystem restoration is the act of assisting ecosystems that have been degraded become healthy or whole again as well as ensure that the healthy ecosystems remain that way. It is not always possible to return ecosystems to their most original format, for example, it may be impossible to return a deforested forest to its original state complete with the type of indigenous trees that were cut down, but it is possible and necessary to ensure that areas that had forests, go back to being forested again, albeit with different species of trees.
South Sudan is in dire need of ecosystem restoration because of the extreme degradation that is continuously happening to our ecosystems. The Sudd Wetland is a Ramsar Designated Site because of its recognized international importance, but as of now, it is being drained out as water is diverted for agricultural use. Wetlands are important as they store carbon dioxide and thus help us mitigate against climate change, they slow down running water and thus prevent floods or at least reduce their intensity, they also contain diverse forms of life and they absorb pollutants and improve water quality. Drying out the Sudd wetland is harmful not just to the environment but to the human beings it shields from harm.
Other ecosystems that continue to be degraded include the forests. Over 80% of the country’s population depend on firewood and charcoal for fuel. This has seen the country lose its forests at a rate of 1.5 to 2% per year. This doesn’t include the teak plantations that are being decimated by foreign firms. Water bodies have also not been left behind. From the agricultural pollution that is caused by excess fertilizers and pesticides flowing into them, to industrial and municipal waste finding its way into rivers and lakes. All these causes human diseases and kills the fish and other organisms that are aquatic in nature.
Oil pollution is one problem that is easy to cause but very expensive to clean up. A problem that our country is experiencing as the oil exploration and processing methods being used cause much harm to the water and soil. They leave toxic pollutants. Oil combined with miming for gold and other minerals has seen our soils and water contaminated with mercury, arsenic and manganese, pollutants that find their way to the human body with disastrous effects.
All these stated examples of ecosystem degradation are just but a remainder of the urgency of starting the process of ecosystem restoration. The first step is to stop the degradation. Oil drilling, exploration and processing does not have to be carried out this way, it should follow the accepted international standards that ensure that humans and the environment are not harmed in the process of getting oil. Practices such as over grazing can also be stopped and people advised to keep a manageable size of cattle that the environment can support.
The other step of ecosystem restoration is assessing the damage done to the ecosystems and coming up with ways to try and make those ecosystems healthy once again. For forests this entails reforestation where forests that have been decimated are planted once again and coming up with sustainable forest management plans that involve the communities. This includes involving all the forest users on what they can do to conserve and sustainably use the forests. It can entail people getting alternative sources of fuel, having a certain quota of how many trees can be cut from those forests and how to ensure that they are replanted.
When it comes to wetlands, ecosystem restoration entails ensuring that the wetland isn’t drained out to the extent that it dries out. This may involve naming it as a protected area to avoid human interference.
Ecosystem restoration is thus possible when every sector is committed to it. It does have its benefits too. Starting with economic benefits; having healthy forests means that every generation shall have an ecosystem that slows down floods and thus shields them from flash floods, while ensuring that they can always sustainably use the forests and it won’t end. Having clean rivers and lakes means the government only needs to provide basic piping and cleaning of the water before providing it to the people compared to dirty and polluted rivers and lakes that increase the cost of cleaning the water before use.
Conserving wildlife also means that the country can earn from tourism in the future. Whereas healthy agricultural lands provide the next generation with a resource for use to earn a livelihood, compared to degraded farmlands that shall see the next generation unable to farm productively.
On top of the economic benefits of economic restoration, there is the fact that ecosystems have intrinsic value. That is to mean that even the ecosystems that don’t benefit us human beings directly also deserve to be here on earth, not everything has to be destroyed simply because it isn’t giving us money.
It is on this note that South Sudan Environmental Advocates (SSEA) is interested on working with communities and other stakeholders to restore our ecosystems. From forest restoration to cleaning up waste to avoid toxic pollutants seeping into the soil and rivers, to helping creating awareness on overgrazing and other ways of degrading the environment, as well as offering alternative forms of energy. SSEA also helps organizations conduct Environmental Impact Assessments and Audits to avoid the degradation we have talked about here and also assists them carry out their Corporate Social Responsibility in environmental matters.
It is everyone’s duty to ensure that ecosystems are preserved, conserved, used sustainably and for those that have already been degraded, are restored to a healthy state. This means that as we seek development as a country it should not be at the expense of the environment.
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