More than 600,000 people have been affected by flooding so far this year in South Sudan. In the past few weeks, dozens of lives have been lost in flash floods, with as many as 50,000 people displaced in September alone. Hundreds of thousands more are at risk from snakebites, diseases and food insecurity as a result of rising waters.
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is working with communities in several of the hardest-hit states including Jonglei, Unity and Northern Bahr el Ghazal. These areas are home to populations that continue to suffer from the impacts of an ongoing food crisis and high levels of violence.
Nowhere else to go
South Sudan is a landlocked country in eastern-central Africa. The world’s youngest state, it gained independence from Sudan just ten years ago, but has been riven by conflict ever since. The White Nile river runs through the heart of the country, where flooding is a growing problem.
Duol Malual Leer is the youth chairperson at a site for internally displaced people in Jonglei State, central South Sudan. He told us that the situation for his community has become desperate following two consecutive years of flooding.
“We can’t get to the market or collect firewood,” he said. “After two years of this [flooding], so many of our shelters have been badly damaged. The situation is very bad, and we were already displaced before the rains came. There is nowhere else for us to go.”
An escalating food crisis
The recent widespread damage to crops couldn’t have come at a worse time. South Sudan’s food situation is worse than at any point since the country gained independence in 2011.
More than 1.4 million children are currently at risk of malnutrition. Even so, many flood-affected communities have seen their access to food assistance cut in recent weeks as limited resources are focussed on those that need it most.
In addition to food, people need shelter from the elements and protection from mosquitos in a country where malaria is the leading cause of death. Access to clean water and sanitation facilities is also desperately required as the risk of communicable disease increases.
However, the rains have cut people off from lifesaving assistance.
“NRC is responding but some areas can be very hard to reach,” explains NRC Area Manager Francis Eswap. “The impact of the flooding on the roads is significant. What might have been a ten-minute journey in the dry season now takes hours.”
Climate change is driving displacement
While additional resources are needed to respond to the current crisis, there is a fear that the past two years of catastrophic floods are part of a broader trend. In some areas this year’s rains arrived even before last year’s floods had fully receded.
Regular disasters like this mean that vast areas of wetlands along the White Nile, which have supported communities for centuries, look increasingly inhospitable. Climate change has become a driver of more permanent displacement.
For Eswap, it is difficult to think about how to build longer-term resilience as he grapples with the immediate challenges.
“It’s too early to tell, but the next few weeks will be key and will tell us the seriousness of the flooding compared to previous years. We cannot, at this stage, rule out a worst-case scenario.”