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The river of history is poisoned

The Nile is destroyed by sewage, garbage and waste. This threatens the lives of millions of people in several countries.


The White Nile has its outlet from the highland areas of Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. The Blue Nile has its outlet from Lake Tana in Ethiopia, and meets the White Nile at Sudan's capital Khartoum. The Blue Nile has the largest water flow, accounting for about 85 percent of the Khartoum water body. The distance from the highlands of Central Africa to the Mediterranean is about 6700 kilometers.
As long as the people along the Nile lived traditionally, they could drink the water from the river. They could fish and water their land without fear of dangerous toxins. It's not like that anymore. A growing pollution is destroying the Nile, and thus the lives of over 100 million people.

Growth. Pollution begins where the Nile begins, and is linked to several things: more use of fertilizers and pesticides in agriculture, population growth and the urbanization of the entire area. The cities are growing fast – Uganda's capital Kampala which currently has 1,8 million people, Tanzania's second largest city Mwanza has almost 800, and Kenya's third largest city Kisumu has almost 000 inhabitants. The sewage from residents and industry flows mostly untreated into Lake Victoria. Currently, there is neither effective legislation nor enough money for treatment plants that can prevent a gradual destruction of Lake Victoria.
The situation is deteriorating along the entire course of the Nile. South Sudan's capital Juba also has large population growth: in 1973 the city had about 57000 inhabitants, in 2005 165, and for 000 the estimate is about 2015. A small minority live in modern housing, while a large and growing majority live in slum areas. Along the riverbank are a significant number of restaurants, guesthouses, hotels and some industries. All sewage, rubbish and waste goes straight into the river.

The destruction of the Jonglei Canal. Around 100 kilometers before the state capital Bor in Jonglei, the Nile glides over the swamp areas, which stretch about 400 kilometers north. The areas are flat and the river has a fall of only one meter per 25 kilometers. The river has a width of up to 100 kilometers during the dry season, but during the rainy season it can flood over an area five times as large. The river has rich fishing grounds, and many hundreds of thousands of people depend on fishing. There are about 250 different bird species, rich wildlife and at least 350 different plant species in the area.
It was here that the government in Khartoum in 1978 – in collaboration with Egypt – decided to dig the much-contested Jonglei Canal. A successful canal project could help increase the volume of water through Egypt by about seven percent. But it was obvious already then that the environmental devastating consequences would be very large: Groundwater would sink. A large area would be wiped out. The fishing would cease. The pasture land used by the cattle people during the rainy season would be desert. Hundreds of thousands of people would lose their lives. Drying of the swamp areas would also have a major negative climate effect for Ethiopia, with the risk of much less rainfall in the border areas towards South Sudan. By 1986, some 240 kilometers had been dug. Then the Sudanese people's liberation arm, SPLA, attacked the project area, inflicting so much destruction that the work stopped. It then remained about 120 kilometers.

The Mediterranean area outside Egypt is the final recipient of the Nile's dangerous cargo.

Back then, most people thought the channel project was dead forever. But in November 2014, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir went on a state visit to Egypt. Many issues were on the agenda – including weapons -
purchase and the possibility of direct military assistance in the civil war. But the core issue was the use of the water in the Nile. The heads of state have, incredibly enough, secretly discussed a possible reopening of the channel project.

The oil companies' irresponsibility. Most of South Sudan's highly polluting oil production is in these wetland areas. No serious assessments were made in advance of whether such activity would harm the environment. The Chinese state oil company CPNC began in February 1999 an oil production which immediately led to major and dangerous pollution of both surface and groundwater. Environmental organizations protested, and the Khartoum government promised that legislation would be in place. In the year 2000, Canadian oil company Talisman passed the new laws to Human Rights Watch (HRW). But the content did not oblige the oil companies. Talisman promised that the company would help accelerate both environmental impact studies and relevant legislation. But shortly afterwards, after political pressure in North America, the Talisman had to leave Sudan. Swedish Lundin Oil, which had one of its installations in the middle of the Nile and others in the wetland area, promised the same, but never shared its findings with HRW.
The annual report from Lundin Oil for the year 2000 refers to a risk analysis carried out by a consultancy firm in London, which states, among other things: "There were no overall environmental and safety issues that gave cause for concern."
Another consultancy study conducted for Lundin Oil, which assessed the impacts on humans, cattle, vegetation, wildlife, surface water sources and groundwater sources, concluded that "there was no significant environmental impact during oil production, either under normal operation or in accident / accident situations" .
In 2009, the German Catholic aid organization Sign of Hope conducted an environmental study that had completely different conclusions. The study found that the oil companies had done little or nothing to protect humans, wildlife and the environment. In an area of ​​over 4000 square kilometers with about 300 inhabitants, there was great harmful pollution of heavy metals in all the water used for drinking and cooking.
In a newly built village of 2500 residents, who had been moved from the construction site, Sign of Hope was able to document that the drinking water – which the oil company drove in tankers to the new village – had a health-damaging salt content and that it also contained very harmful quantities of the toxic minerals. cyanide, lead, nickel, cadmium and arsenic.

The Nile and South Sudan. From January 2012 to the beginning of 2013, the level of conflict between Khartoum and Juba was so high when it came to oil production and what was to be paid in fees for transporting the oil through pipelines, that the government of Juba stopped oil production.
When it started again in the winter of 2013, the companies argued that they had to recapture lost production and income, and therefore could not prioritize environmental problems.
The civil war in South Sudan between December 2013 and August 2015 has made all the pollution worse. When this is written in the fall of 2015, it is still so dangerous to travel in the three most devastated states that it is difficult to get specific information about the environmental damage from the war and the oil business.
The government of Juba has neither the political will nor the moral authority to do anything about these conditions that are so devastating to people, wildlife and the environment. In 2015, the extent of the environmental damage caused by oil operations in South Sudan is greater than ever. Every hour, every day, the polluted water and oil waste with all the toxins say into all rivers and streams – and into the groundwater, and into Africa's great vein, the Nile.

The Nile in Khartoum. On its way north, after about 5000 kilometers, the White Nile reaches Sudan's capital Khartoum, where it meets the Blue Nile.
It is difficult to find facts and statistics about the sanitary conditions in Khartoum. The country is a closed dictatorship regime, and there are few up-to-date and relevant statistics.
Today, there are an estimated five million people living in the Sudanese capital, and the city is growing rapidly. The vast majority of Khartoum are very poor, while a growing minority are in some cases very rich.
The poor live in slums. They must buy water from tankers with heavily polluted Nile water. In the slums, the sewage flows in open ditches through the streets, and much of the sewage finds its way to the Nile.
The rich part of the population has access to purified water for cooking, and they have sewage systems in their areas. The sewerage systems, which are accessible to about 25 percent of the capital's population, usually consist of a large septic tank. When it is full, a tanker truck that drives the contents to waste disposal sites near the slums is called. There it lies – until the rain and flood the dried masses take out into the Nile.
But the authorities care for the upper class. In recent years, a residential and business area has been developed for the rich called Al-Mogran, which is the largest in the Horn of Africa. The development of the area has cost about NOK 30 billion and has been paid with oil money.
Most of what is found in Khartoum's industry is located near the banks of the Nile, and most of the industrial waste goes into the Nile. The oil refineries along the Nile contribute greatly to the pollution.
The Nile in Egypt. Egypt has a population of about 85 million people. Cairo has just over 10 million inhabitants, while Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast has about 4,7 million. One third of the population lives in the Nile Valley.

A change for the better requires free societies where people dare to debate and formulate demands.

Egypt is a dry land area with an annual rainfall of less than 90 millimeters. About 97 percent of all water used in the country comes from the Nile.
The water from the Nile is stored in the gigantic Lake of Aswan just after the border with Sudan, before it flows through Egypt. Some of the toxic minerals collected in the river water on the road from the Nile's impact fields sink to the bottom, while the rest remain with the water out into the Nile Valley.
The heavily polluted water is pumped out over the agricultural areas of the Nile Valley and the surrounding countryside. It simply means that the food produced from these areas contains toxins and is hazardous to health.
The Nile Valley has about 700 large industrial production facilities located along the river bank. Solid waste is thrown away like other waste on large waste mountains. The poorest people live on the waste mountains, and pick what they can use. Much of the liquid waste and sewage from the industry goes straight into the Nile, without any sort of purification. It is estimated that about 4,5 million tonnes of hazardous and partially toxic industrial waste end up in the Nile each year.
40 percent of the population of Egypt's cities are said to be associated with some form of sewage system, where the sewage goes either to septic tanks which are emptied or into sewers.
wiring for wastewater treatment plants. There are around 400 such treatment plants in Cairo, but they are often in poor condition and lack maintenance. Therefore, much of this sewage is poorly cleaned before it enters the Nile.
The poor do not have renovation and sewage, and therefore throw waste at random dumps. They use shallow latrines, and the contents therefore easily come into contact with the groundwater, which in turn connects with the water in the Nile.
Nearly 40 million people in Egypt are forced to drink polluted, unhealthy water daily. About 100 people die each year from cancer caused by pollution. According to UNICEF, nearly 000 children die each year as a result of diarrhea caused by contaminated water.
The Mediterranean area outside Egypt is the final recipient of the Nile's dangerous cargo. At least 750 million tonnes of sewage ends up in the sea every year. Of this, about 145 tonnes are mineral oil, 000 tonnes of mercury, 66 tonnes of lead and 000 tonnes of phosphate. The sea area is thus heavily polluted. Fish and shellfish – which are becoming less and less – have these toxins in them, and it is harmful to health to swim in the sea.
Egyptian critics claim that the year 2025 can be scathing. If the authorities have not been properly dealt with today's pollution problems, the existence of Egyptian society is threatened.
Much of Egypt's international aid is used to improve water supply and waste and sewage management, but the results are far too slow.
All this is because the authorities and the bureaucracy are working slowly. It takes years to finalize laws and regulations that can curb environmental damage, and the implementation of such decisions will then take even more years. This is again linked to the authoritarian structure of the Egyptian state. People are scared and make decisions.
But it is not just Egypt that has authoritarian state structures that are functioning even worse. The same applies to Uganda, South Sudan and Sudan. A change for the better requires free societies where people dare to debate and formulate demands, and where the authorities are obliged to make decisions that are to the best of all.

The article is based on UN source material and national and international NGOs.

Halle Jørn Hanssen
Halle Jørn Hanssen
Former Secretary General of Norwegian People's Aid, TV correspondent, politician and author.

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