Another Humanitarian Crisis Brewing As Floods And Famine Ravage South Sudan

By Deng Machol

Floods in Bor Town, Jonglei, South Sudan, August 2020. Photo: UNHCR / Komma Godfrey

Juba – Roads to the northern parts of the South Sudan are being cut off and turned  into streams in the wake of heavy flooding and outburst of the River Nile leading to fears of another humanitarian crisis.

The impoverished Eastern African young nation is struggling to recover from the country’s five-year civil war and was already suffering severe food shortages, covid 19 pandemic and economic crisis before the floods.

A month ago, South Sudan President Kiir imposed a  State of emergency in Jonglei region to contain the Floods, which then destroyed property ,businesses and caused massive displacement.

South Sudan has said that the level of rain this year had surpassed their expectations, but they maintained that matters were under control.

Scientists say the unusual rains are caused by a cyclical weather pattern that has been exacerbated by climate change.

Both the government, and humanitarian agencies described the situation as a “huge disaster,” which they called the worst floods in 4 decades.

The humanitarian agencies, however warned that the floods induced famine could lead to aid paucity in the country.

Data collected by the government and UN agencies suggest over 600,000 people have been affected as heavy rains have forced the River Nile to burst its bank submerging the plains nearby.

According to the government, the most affected states are Jonglei, with over 250,000 people, Lakes State with 198,000 and Upper Nile with 13,000, among others.

“Most of our areas are at level 4 of food insecurity and with this food crisis – we are going to be forced to go to level 5, which is almost to famine,” said Santino Bol, the Deputy Chairperson for the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission. “The effects are great, farms are affected – crops are submerged under water, displacement of our people is heavy, many people have left their areas of origin to find out places that they move into,” he said.

The rainy season started late this year in South Sudan, but when it arrived, it came with a vengeance. But the areas in the northern part of the country, suffered the hardest blow. More rain is expected, and as the River Nile rises to record levels, many fear the worst is yet to come.

“We can attribute this to climate change,” said Garang Kuol, a student in Juba.

Poor urban planning, however, may have also contributed to the immense damage caused by flash flooding, especially in greater Upper Nile region.

“Upper Nile region is in a shallow basin that will always be prone to flooding,” said John Atem, a resident of Jonglei State, on the phone.

“In South Sudan, water is normally associated with life but now, water it is putting lives at risk,” said Jacob Magai, an activist.

Across the country, particularly in Upper Niles region, the flood has significant reported damage to livelihood assets, food crops and livestock has diminished the communities’ ability to effectively start to recover.

“Vast areas of the country along the River Nile are now under water. More than 600,000 people have been affected since July in Jonglei, Lakes, Unity, Upper Nile, and Central and Western Equatoria. Entire communities have fled to higher ground to escape the rising waters. The number of people affected will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and many women and children who had earlier been displaced by sub-national violence are now displaced again,” said Mr. Alain Noudéhou, Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan, who visits flood-affected people.

 Noudehou added that humanitarian actors are working to scale up the response by providing food, temporary shelter, fishing kits, water purification tablets, medicine and other supplies, with a focus on people and areas that are most affected. In some communities, support is also being planned to rehabilitate disaster mitigation infrastructure such as dykes to complement the emergency response and to prevent more people for being displaced by the floods.

 “The people I met today are doing their best to stay dry and meet their livelihood needs. Their resilience is seriously being tested as they have to deal with one shock after another. This is making it increasingly difficult for the affected communities to cope. Timely and sustained humanitarian assistance is urgently needed,” the Humanitarian Coordinator added.

In Jonglei State, locals have registered to help in built traditional dykes in order to protect their house from the rising of water. A team also goes with whatever aid it can offer. The group’s formation was all the more important because the South Sudanese government was slow to respond, some volunteers say

“In mid-July, it was raining really hard in Bor town – “We were asleep, but then we heard a loud noise. The ceiling from a nearby room fell,” said Rebecca Yar, 38 – year old, resident of Bor town in Jonglei State, then we woke up frightened, walked out and saw a stream of water in the yard.

She further recalled that the water was up to their knees; thereafter they got buckets and gazed to scoop the water outside.

The water level in flood-hit areas has risen 1.5 meters (4.9 feet). Aid agencies fear the floods will aggravate the prevailing food crisis in the region. Many health facilities and nutrition centers used to shelter people are currently under water.

The flood has also destroyed housing and roads, include all the man – made dykes and have left many people in search of dry group.

Many people like Yar, has left their homes in Bor town to Mangalla, a crucial highland area in Central Equatoria State, 45 Km from Juba capital of South Sudan, for their safety until the water go down.

“You have to imagine yourself in this place — no shelter, no food, no water – “You wouldn’t stand it,” said Ayen Garang, 29 – year old, flood victim in Mangalla.

Hundred thousands of the flood victims in Jonglei State has arrived in Mangalla, are sleeping under the trees, facing lack of foods and water as the humanitarian agencies’ attending is too sluggish.

Food shortages

However, covid has also left a negative effect on food distribution to suffering communities this year.

“Food insecurity is the great factor induced by flood – we have seen risk of water borne disease by the flood – the impact result into number of crises,” said Bol, deputy chairperson of the RRC while calling for intervention of food supply from the international community.

“The World Food Programme this year didn’t complete their intended food supply level,” said Bol. Every year they procure over 200,000 tons of food to support the community – this year because of covid – 19 and early flooding – they can’t be able to bring all the quantity required to support the community – with all the roads cutoff by flood,” said Bol.

On the other hand, families were living off of leaves and sorghum, said Matthew Hollingworth, the country director of the U.N.’s World Food Programme (WFP).

“That is not enough to keep them healthy and fit,” he said. Some food was due to be distributed next month but there was not enough to go round,” said Hollingworth.

Deputy Minister of foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Deng Dau Deng reaffirmed the commitment of the government to facilitate the movement of humanitarian agencies across the country.

“The government will provide access [to] visa and tax exemption to all humanitarian organizations in the country,” said Deng.

The impact of the heavy rains and floods has been felt in most of South Sudan, including the areas which didn’t get floods in the war-torn country.

Footage circulated online (social media) showed floodwaters cutting off roads and sweeping away houses and people’s belongings. Swaths of agricultural land in the areas were also flooded.

Funds needed

More than US$80 million is needed for the overall flood response, including $46 million for immediate assistance to 360,000 people until the end of the year. Mr. Noudéhou said: “I am releasing $10 million from the South Sudan Humanitarian Fund for the flood response. I thank the donor community for its generous contribution to the overall humanitarian situation in South Sudan and call for more funding to respond to the immediate and urgent needs created by the floods.”

 In addition to the immediate relief, further investment is needed in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation to avoid a repeat of the same crisis year after year. “We need to work together with affected people and local governments to rehabilitate relevant local infrastructure to help prepare communities to better cope with recurring shocks,” the Humanitarian Coordinator stressed.

Meanwhile, the United States has announced nearly $108 million in additional humanitarian assistance for the people of South Sudan, including those displaced to neighboring countries.

The funding includes nearly $97 million from the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration and more than $11 million from the USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance.

“A Dialogue with the World’s Top Ten Donors on Global Humanitarian Needs,” hosted by the United States, we announced nearly $108 million in humanitarian assistance for the people South Sudan, including South Sudanese in neighboring countries,” US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo told a UN General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Thursday 24 September 2020.

This brings the total U.S. humanitarian assistance for the response, including refugees and those affected by conflict and natural disasters, to nearly $907 million in Fiscal Year 2020 alone and nearly $5.5 billion since the start of the crisis in 2014, including more than $64 million in supplemental humanitarian assistance to support the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the region.

According to the Trump administration, heavy rains, fighting between armed groups, food insecurity, a deteriorating economic situation, and the coronavirus pandemic have compounded an already dire humanitarian crisis in South Sudan.

This is a most devastating flooding experience in over four decades in the country, something that the observer says “the suffering here cannot go unnoticed and requires an immediately compassionate response” from both the government and humanitarian agencies.

Analyst says the overflows of River Nile and the Sudd wetland to the nearby communities and towns/villages will have much considerable negative effect to livelihoods, calling on the government to support relocation of affected communities.

South Sudan has been blighted by the unending circle of violence and the unfolding humanitarian situation, following the conflict that broke out in 2013; two years after the country won its independence from Sudan. The five year conflict has killed nearly 400,000 and uprooted four million people, creating the worst refugee crisis in Africa since the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Last year, since July, the floods have affected an estimated 908,000 people, 620,000 of whom require immediate humanitarian assistance in eight states of South Sudan.

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