Saturday, July 26, 2014

Save the Sudd

Keeping an eye on the Sudd Swamp on the White Nile in the southern Sudan is a difficult but important job.  

Home to over 400 bird and 100 mammal species, the Sudd supports the highest population of Shoebill Storks and the greatest numbers of antelopes in Africa. It is now in danger and so are the millions of birds that use the swamp during their migrations from Asia and Europe. 

The Sudd, of which 57 million hectares was designated a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance in 2006, is located in the lower reaches of the White Nile, which flows north from Lake Victoria.

“The wetland as a whole and its dynamics have not been mapped repetitively or systematically,” explains Lisa-Maria Rebelo, a researcher in remote sensing at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  Two civil wars, the first between 1955 and 1972 and the second from 1983 to 2005 have also contributed to the dearth of knowledge about the Sudd. The political instability culminated with South Sudan becoming an independent state in 2011, but gaining access to the wetland remains difficult.  Rebelo recalled that “Many of the people we met in Sudan had grown up in or around the wetland and many of their cultural ceremonies were tied to it.”

Despite the wetland’s value, it faces a number of threats. In the 1980s, a 260km stretch of a planned 360km canal was dug, with the aim of diverting 4.7 billion cubic meters of water annually to Egypt and Sudan for irrigation. The project was halted by the civil war but if re-instigated could have drastic environmental consequences.

The Sudd can and should be saved, as explained in Papyrus: The Plant that Changed the World, From Ancient Egypt to Today’s Water Wars from Pegasus Books ( by John Gaudet, Ph.D., a professional ecologist and environmental adviser (, will tell us how all the above can be avoided.

 Harvard University's Belfer Center voted this book the Innovation Book of the Week and declared it "A masterpiece of economic and historical botany," and Barbara Kiser in Nature called it "a swirling anthropological and environmental narrative."

Watch these short videos that brings much of this into perspective: and and help spread the word about this plant that will play a crucial role as the global drying of the climate continues. 

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