South Africa

Flooding pushes already devastated South Sudan further to the brink

Flooding pushes already devastated South Sudan further to the brink

The lives of as many as 500,000 South Sudanese hang in the balance as severe flooding leaves livestock dead, infrastructure destroyed and the threat of disease ever more real.

According to Doctors Without Borders - or Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which has worked in South Sudan since 1983 - the flooding has particularly hit the Greater Pibor region in the south-east of the world's newest nation.

The flooding has "displaced thousands of people and worsened an already devastating humanitarian emergency", MSF said in a statement issued on Wednesday. It is the second consecutive year of severe flooding to hit the area.

"Since July, the floods have displaced hundreds of thousands of people and left many more without reliable access to food and clean water. They are exposed to malaria, waterborne diseases, snakebites and food insecurity, as floodwaters overwhelm their homes and farms," MSF said.

The flooding also comes after violence erupted in parts of the country during the first half of the year. Pibor was one of those areas affected.

MSF deputy head of mission Josh Rosenstein said: “This has been a hard 12 months for this community. Multiple times MSF has responded to various emergencies, and once again our latest emergency response to conflict-related displacement is transforming into a flood response. Our focus is now on malaria, measles and flooding."

MSF quoted a woman identified only as "Martha" as saying: “When the fighting renewed [in June 2020], we fled to the bush with our cattle. Forty cows were stolen, but we still have 60 more. Then the floods came and the remaining cattle died from a disease. Now everything is gone.”

Martha's six-month-old grandson Kony is recovering from cerebral malaria at an MSF clinic in Pibor town. Martha and her daughter-in-law carried Kony for two days from Neemach settlement to Pibor to reach medical services. 

In a country that relies almost exclusively on international aid for health care, and with very limited formal infrastructure, the risks to the South Sudanese are real.

“I can’t believe what my eyes have seen in Pibor,” said Simon Peter Olweny, MSF’s water and sanitation coordinator in Pibor.

“So much destruction of infrastructure and resources. There is a lack of public toilets in the town. In our clinic, we have only two toilets and no space to build more to meet a minimum requirement for hundreds of patients we treat each day.

“These conditions are a breeding ground for diseases.”

For Rosenstein, the situation in South Sudan shows how the country - devastated by decades-long civil war, including since gaining independence from Sudan in 2011 - continues to suffer.

“Today’s emergency is just another situation that is having a compounded effect on the local community. The worst of the flooding is yet to happen, and the community is already feeling the strains of food insecurity,” he said.

“Lack of access to health care will only get worse over the coming weeks and months, and conditions will only grow more precarious for people.”