South Sudan communities caught between big polluters and climate shocks

By Chol William Arem

In late August 2020, the community of Melut, Upper Nile State, South Sudan gathered to stage a peaceful demonstration against oil companies in protest of the environmental and social impacts coupled with a lack of services to communities in the area.

Melut is an oil-rich area, and groups of Youth, Chiefs, and Women took to the streets demanding action for the injustices that have been forced upon them. The protestors handed over their petitions to the DAR Petroleum company now operating in the area, and to the Director of the defunct Central Upper Nile State.

Earlier this year, there have been various reports indicating the mishandling of crude waste products and careless maintenance of the already drilled wells which resulted to the polluting of the areas around the drilling fields.

Members of the community have suffered severe loss, as there have been cases of children falling into open drilling sites and drowning. This has also happened several times to livestock, for which the community demanded compensation for loss of income in their petition – along with the demand to close all excavated pits to avoid this happening again in the future.

The demands also called for the proper rehabilitation of the area, as toxic water that now flows through the jungle can pollutel the waters of the Nile during the floods.

This protest came just before devastation was set to hit as the floods arrived – but became extreme due to climate impacts. In what has been described as a worst-in-a-century event, 100 people died, and over half a million have been displaced as homes were submerged or washed away.

In early September, the Sudanese government declared a three month state of emergency. This is a climate emergency, and we must act like our world depends on it – because it does.