The U.N. refugee agency reports weeks of unrelenting rain and heavy flooding in South Sudan have washed away whole communities and wiped out the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people.
Floods are not new to South Sudan. What is new is the frequency and intensity of the flooding. UNHCR representative in South Sudan, Arafat Jamal, describes the current flooding, which has affected more than 700,000 people, as being of near biblical proportions.
“People have lived with flooding for millennia, but they have been able to cope. They have been able to move to higher ground when the floods are there, and then come down when they recede. But when you have a high-level flooding year after year, that destroys the crops and does not allow you to replant. That is when you have got an erosion (in) peoples’ ability to survive,” Jamal expressed.
He points out the present floods have hit at a time when people in South Sudan are facing the triple threat of conflict, COVID-19, and hunger. He says the devastating flooding is expected to continue as the climate crisis intensifies.
He notes Jonglei, Unity, Northern Bahr el Ghazal and Upper Nile are the worst affected states. “I have seen people stranded on islands. I have heard from people who have had to survive by eating grass and roots. And we have also heard of people who have had to walk for 10 days to access dry land. It is also hugely destructive in terms of assets. This is an agricultural country and a country that depends upon its herds of cattle,” Jamal says.
Cattle have also been affected. They are stranded and drowning, mired in the mud and unable to survive. And whole fields of sorghum, mangoes, and millet are destroyed by flooding, he says.
He says the UNHCR together with South Sudan’s government are delivering urgently needed aid to the most vulnerable. That aid includes hygiene items, food, emergency shelter and solar lanterns to provide light.
However, he adds much more assistance is needed and is appealing to the international community to help rebuild the affected communities and restore people’s lives and livelihoods.