Left: Bor town market in Jonglei State submerged by floods. Right: Women from a village near Bor town walk through flood water almost above their chests.
The communities most affected by floods in South Sudan include the eastern counties of Jonglie State namely: Bor, Akobo, and Twic; and Upper Nile State counties of Maban and Malakal. These areas have the highest number of displacements; lots of families without shelter, have no basic livelihood, inadequate access to safe drinking water points and no access to learning centres for their children.
Floods are a grave disaster that has caused displacement of communities and destruction of infrastructural property in South Sudan. Since the country attained its independence in July 2011, the concerned Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management (MHAMD) has largely undermined its duty on flood prevention, mitigation approaches and responses.

For the last three years, there have been erratic and heavy rainfall in South Sudan which has caused excessive flooding in Jonglei and Upper Nile states due to the nature of the landscape that does not allow effective flow of water downstream. Water has increasingly accumulated in villages, especially in agricultural fields and grazing lands. As the rainy season is currently at its peak, flooding is expected to increase - which might aggravate the situation. In addition, the heavy rains in the upper basin of the Nile (Central equatorial and Uganda) are expected to increase the water level of the river and the connected swamps which may in turn cause breakage of the already damaged primary dyke and exacerbate the crisis.

Residents of the flood-affected eastern counties of Jonglie State namely: Bor, Akobo, and Twic; and Upper Nile State counties of Maban and Malakal have been forced to move to higher grounds and further away from the river banks. Most of the population lives in temporary structures made of Sorghum stalks, old clothing and craft mats.

The low-lying areas are submerged in water, left with destroyed shelters, household belongings floating on flood water, and poor sanitation as a result of the bigger population practicing open defecation; the few households that had constructed pit latrines also lost them to the floods.  Cases of water borne diseases are already prevalent in the flood-affected areas mainly due to consumption of contaminated water and the lifestyle of un-safe hygiene practices in the community.

The floods have caused shock and trauma particularly to women and children as a result of psychological stress and sleeplessness for women in fear for their children’s safety at night, getting sick, or being bitten by poisonous snakes, insects etc. Most children are cut off from school due to flooded and impassable roads and this is bound to affect their academic life.

Women are the most disadvantaged; vastly searching for hard-to-find firewood, searching for clean water and carrying it for longer distances, involve in shifting of heavy household properties….; all these challenges subsequently expose them to risks of GBV as disagreements and resultant fights occur with their partners.

History has seen Government’s MHAMD partnering with NGOs to establish some mitigation approaches though the local government has no active disaster master plan to directly respond to flood risks. For instance, water flooded from Ethiopia to South Sudan and hit the Maban area causing serious displacement and destruction to the local communities; government never responded to this disaster. International organisations that were operating in this area airlifted their workers to safety leaving the local population mainly women and children to suffer the consequences of the floods.

In Jonglie the humanitarian community in coordination with the MHAMD responded but with less impact considering the magnitude of the disaster. The affected communities are very desperate since 2019 when the floods first hit. Right now, they are contemplating on where to seek refugee since the flood season - September to November is fast approaching.

Key priority response areas to consider:
  • Shelter and Non-Food Items: The affected population left behind their shelters after they were submerged, forcing them to camp under temporary sheds. They also lost their household belongings - they were washed away by the floods. For instance, some families are using tins as cooking utensils; therefore, the top need for shelter and non-food items.
  • Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH): The affected population have no easy access to safe water; flood water that is highly contaminated remains the largely available water. Most of the boreholes are submerged and the communities are using either water from the river or flood water for cooking and household consumption.  Having lost household assets most families own usually no more than one jerrycan to fetch and safe-store water. There’s urgent need for interventions in WASH programmes in the affected communities including distribution of mosquito-nets to protect pregnant women from the risk of catching malaria.
  • Food Security and Livelihood: Families have lost means of livelihoods/income opportunities as their crops in farms have been destroyed by floods. Livelihood assets including food commodities in their houses were either destroyed or washed away by flash floods. Communities urgently need rehabilitative interventions to enhance food production and other income generating projects for the households.
  • Education: Many schools premises/classrooms are occupied by flood displaced people; this means schools cannot effectively operate because of the interference. Moreover, most roads to schools are submerged and children are not able to travel to school. There’s need to relocate the displaced population out of schools’ facilities to give way for schools to operate.
  • Nutrition: There is high prevalence of malnutrition which is not new but has been exacerbated by people relocating to places far away from Nutrition centres; thus many children are missing on Nutrition programs. This has also been due to impassable roads as a result of floods. There’s need to move nutrition services nearer to the displaced communities in order to overcome this problem.
  • Security and Protection:  Most of the flood affected people are women and children. In households headed by women, they are responsible to rescue family members from floods and guide them to safety - a responsibility they may not be able to perform effectively - consequently putting their families at risk. Women and girls move out for long distances, to less-familiar and non-secure places to collect water and firewood. This increases their risk to abuse – many rape and murder cases have been reported. There’s need for government to among other measures designate safe places for flood victims or at least guarantee their safety in places where they find refuge.
Relevant information
  • Humanitarian access, say physical access to the affected areas could be difficult but not entirely impossible. Boats can be used to reach areas cut off by floods.
  • The International Organization for Migration in coordination with South Sudan government shall soon respond to the crisis by implementing some mitigation approaches to reinforce outcomes for the flood affected communities in South Sudan under the Netherlands government funds to: Strengthen the knowledge base on the vulnerability of communities to disaster related risks, Strengthen capacities for effective community response to climate related shocks through participatory disaster risk management; Mechanisms and early warning system at dyke rehabilitation, and Enhance resilience to climate related shocks through strategic infrastructural interventions in target locations.

The Nile Basin Discourse Forum in South Sudan envisage to coordinate with the local authorities and communities to raise awareness on floods, mobilizing stakeholders and communities on early warning on flood occurrences and risks if given access to funds.

Lomoro Cosmos,
National Technical Support Expert - South Sudan NDF

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