The Future of the Sudd


Ultimately, development decisions should be made in a way that shapes markets and leads to a sustainable evolutionary path.

The Future of the Sudd Outputs

Our approach recognizes

  • the role of ecological process in maintaining the integrity of life support systems,
  • the role of these life support systems in maintaining human societies, and
  • the conflict between local ecosystem integrity and the continued expansion of the market economy.

An important point that emerges from this study of the Sudd is the importance of stable institutions in supporting conservation efforts. Successful conservation efforts (Africa’s world-famous national parks in Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa, for example) have all taken place within a framework of transparent legal systems, mechanisms to control civil strife, and sound, integrated policy planning. Likewise, the worst cases of environmental abuse (the draining of the Aral Sea and the Mesopotamian marsh, for example) have occurred when there is a lack of institutions that allow stability, cooperation among competing interests, and comprehensive planning.

The choice between letting the destruction of the Sudd continue as dictated by the whims of market forces, or whether to preserve its unique environmental and cultural features for the benefit of society, is clearly framed by the Jonglei canal proposal. A business-as-usual approach will result in the destruction of a unique and irreplaceable piece of the natural world that could enhance the well-being of the citizens of South Sudan for generations to come. Avoiding this outcome requires active intervention on the part of policy makers. Such an intervention need not destroy the creative power of individual and community initiatives. Government policy can set the top-down parameters, within which market forces work. Bottom-up creativity can then work within that framework.

Ecological capital Sudd infographic

The Sudd General Information:Population size: 1,182,804 (2010 Census)

(~10 times the Okavango Delta, ~ 5 times the Serengeti)

Area size: 40,000km2 – 100,000km2

(~ 6 times the Okavango Delta, ~4-5 times the Serengeti)


Agriculture: 86% of households, total: 140,877

Cattle farming: est. 3,956,000 cows

Direct Use:Tourism: ~600 million US$

Household resources: ~207.6 million US$

Total – Direct Use: 807.6 million US$ per year

Indirect Use:Groundwater recharge: ~25.1 million US$

Carbon sequestration: ~71.6 million US$

Wildlife Refuge: ~65.76 million US$

Water purification: ~8.88 million US$

Scientific and Educational Value: ~12 million US$

Flood control: (No estimated value)

Total – Indirect Use: 183.34 million US$ per year

Total: 990.94 million US$ per yearPer hectare: 173.85 US$ per year (Ramsar site only)


Top-Down Parameters and Bottom-Up Initiatives

The fundamental policy question is whether or not to preserve the wetland. This decision should be made after careful, democratic deliberation by all parties potentially affected. Economic, social, and environmental considerations must be taken into account by using both qualitative and quantitative indicators of the value of the Sudd and the effects of alternative uses of the Sudd on these values. A decision to preserve the wetland will set the basic parameters of its future use. Future uses should preserve the integrity of the Sudd’s sustaining functions, including its hydrological roles, biodiversity, and contributions to the livelihoods of local cultures. This requires top-down regulations to ensure the sustainability of those functions. The next step in policy formulation is to identify and promote uses of the wetland that can increase the well-being of the people of South Sudan in the context of preserving the sustaining functions of the Sudd. Possible uses might be sustainable forestry, sustainable fisheries, ecotourism, and yet-unknown local uses that could provide income without drawing down South Sudan’s natural capital. These uses could be promoted by government policies, local initiatives, and initiatives supported by NGOs and other outside donors. Identifying and promoting broad types of use is, ultimately, both a top-down and bottom-up process.

Finally, the success any of these initiatives depends on specific projects thought through and carried out by local entrepreneurs. Given encouragement, technical advice, and financial support, individual and local communities could make the Sudd a driver of development in South Sudan.

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Jonglei Canal excavator – some decisions are irreversible. Photo credit: Yann Arthus-Bertrand,