In the Sudd, the river flows through multiple tangled channels in a pattern that changes each year. Papyrus grows in dense thickets in the shallow water, which is frequented by crocodiles and hippopotami. Sometimes the matted vegetation breaks free of its moorings, building up into floating islands of vegetation up to 30 km in length. Such islands, in varying stages of decomposition, eventually break up. The sluggish waters are host to a large population of mosquitos and parasites that cause waterborne diseases. The Sudd is considered to be nearly impassable either overland or by watercraft. The early explorers searching for the source of the Nile experienced considerable difficulties, sometimes taking months to get through. In The White Nile, Alan Moorehead says of the Sudd, "there is no more formidable swamp in the world."
There are three main waterways through the swamp; the Bahr al Zaraf ("River of the Giraffes"), the Bahr al Ghazal ("River of the Gazelles"), and the Bahr al Jabal ("River of the Mountain"), which is the main connection to the Mountain Nile.
The Jonglei diversion canal
Because of the Sudd swamp, the water from the southwestern tributaries (the Bahr el Ghazal system) for all practical purposes does not reach the main river and is lost through evaporation and transpiration. Hydrogeologists in the early part of the 20th century proposed digging a canal east of the Sudd which would divert water from the Bahr al Jabal above the Sudd to a point farther down the White Nile, bypassing the swamps and carrying the White Nile's water's directly to the main channel of the river.
The Jonglei canal project was first studied by the government of Sudan in 1946 and plans were developed in 1954-59. Construction work on the canal began in 1978 but the outbreak of political instability in Sudan has held up work for many years. By 1984 when the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) brought the works to a halt, 240km of the canal of a total of 360km had been excavated.
It is estimated that the Jonglei canal project would produce 4.8 x 109 m³ of water per year. There are, however, complex environmental and social issues involved, which may limit the scope of the project in practical terms.
References and notes
- The Potential of the Nile River Basin, And The Economic Development of Sudan by Marcia Merry Baker, The American Almanac, 1997
- Sudd on Google Map
- Saharan flooded grasslands (World Wildlife Fund)
- Elephant herds found on isolated south Sudan island
Adapted from the Wikipedia article "Sudd" http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Sudd&oldid=168613010 released under the GNU Free Documentation License