South Sudan: Annual floods herald a new approach to aid

8 Nov 2013

October 2013, Warrap State, South Sudan: Two children evacuate their family's livestock from their village in Warrap State in northern South Sudan. By early November, severe seasonal flooding had affected nine of the 10 South Sudanese states leaving an estimated 223,000 in need of humanitarian assistance. Credit: OCHA
Severe seasonal flooding across most of South Sudan has left over 223,000 people in need of humanitarian assistance.

Akon Achien Achuil’s ability to provide for her family was washed away when flooding wiped out crops and livestock in Gogrial West County, Warrap state, in September.

“Even the sorghum, groundnuts and simsim (sesame) that we had harvested before flooding will be destroyed because we don’t have a place to dry them,” she said.

The fear of looming food shortages is very real for the nearly 25,000 flood-affected people across Warrap state in northern South Sudan. In the immediate term, Akon is worried that flooding may trigger disease outbreaks such as malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory tract infection.

“We need food and other assistance such as plastic sheets, mosquito nets and blankets for ourselves and our children,” she told an inter-agency humanitarian team that was assessing the impact of the floods on her village.

Improved coordination gets assistance to where it’s needed

By early November, severe seasonal flooding had affected nine of the 10 South Sudanese states. Aid organizations have reached about 138,000 of the estimated 223,000 people in need, providing them with food, medicines and basic household supplies.

Their work has been aided by access to dedicated helicopters. These assets have been useful in a country where 60 per cent of roads become impassable during the rainy season. Aid agencies took other steps to prepare, explained Vincent Lelei, the Head of OCHA’s South Sudan office.

“Based on lessons learnt for the 2012 flood-season experience, aid agencies improved their preparedness by pre-positioning relief stocks during the dry season earlier this year,” he said.
“But more importantly, the South Sudanese Government has been proactive in its response. They established a disaster relief fund and a senior-level task force.”

On 19 October, the Government declared parts of South Sudan disaster zones and appealed to the international community for humanitarian aid. This came a month after it allocated 7 million South Sudanese pounds (about US$1.6 million) to flood response.

A chance to strengthen resilience

Affected communities, the Government and humanitarians all agree that more needs to be done to reduce the impact of these types of predictable hazards in the long term.

“After the rainy season, I intend to relocate to higher ground in Alueel village where it does not flood easily,” said Akon. “But even so, I will need tools to open water ways and construct dykes around my homestead to protect it in coming years.”

Her wish chimes with that of the Government, which has promised to address the immediate needs of affected people, while strengthening disaster management capacity at the community and national level.
Flooding is a seasonal phenomenon in South Sudan. In 2014, humanitarians will work with the Government to strengthen its disaster management capacity, while working with communities to build their resilience to future threats.

Aid agencies plan to pre-position more emergency stocks in more locations. They will work with the Government to encourage and support communities to resettle to higher and safer ground, or to build dykes around their homesteads to minimize the impact of seasonal flooding.