UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is urging international support for humanitarian efforts in South Sudan in the face of record-breaking rains and floods for a fourth consecutive year, and the threat of worse to come as the climate crisis accelerates.
Two-thirds of the country is currently experiencing flooding. Over 900,000 people have been directly impacted as waters have swept away homes and livestock, forced thousands to flee, and inundated large swathes of farmland, worsening an already dire food emergency. Boreholes and latrines have been submerged, contaminating water sources and risking outbreaks of diseases.
In Unity State, the capital, Bentiu, has become an island surrounded by floodwaters. All roads in and out are impassable and only boats and the airstrip serve as lifelines for humanitarian aid to reach 460,000 people already displaced by a mix of both flooding and conflict.
Camps for the internally displaced are below the current water level, protected from floodwaters only by dikes – large, compacted mounds of earth – erected by the United Nations, the government, and the inhabitants themselves.
People are working around the clock with pumps, buckets, excavators, and heavy machinery to keep the water at bay and prevent the dikes from collapsing. Needs are surging for food, shelter, water, and sanitation supplies as stocks of basic items are running out.
As the climate crisis is ratcheting up, extreme weather is wearing down the resilience of displaced communities hit by repeated disasters. UNHCR is scaling up its support to vulnerable populations in hard-to-reach areas of South Sudan through mobile protection response teams. However, many roads are inaccessible and alternative means of transport are scarce.
In Maban, in Upper Nile state, trucks carrying food and much-needed relief items are unable to reach the Doro Refugee Camp because roads are blocked by water. This means that October’s rations will not reach the 75,000 Sudanese refugees living there. Last month, trucks were stuck on the road for weeks. Food rations were eventually airlifted to the camp but there are not enough funds to do this again, meaning many may go hungry.
While South Sudan’s refugee crisis remains the largest in Africa, with over 2.3 million South Sudanese refugees in neighboring countries, an estimated 2.2 million people are internally displaced within the country, which also hosts over 340,000 refugees.
Wracked by civil war for most of its brief history, South Sudan is afflicted by widespread intercommunal violence, the devastating effects of climate change, and severe food insecurity affecting 60 per cent of the population of 11 million. Food prices have soared, and the currency has been devalued, exacerbating a protracted humanitarian crisis.
South Sudan is one of UNHCR’s most underfunded crises having received less than half of the US$214.8 million needed this year. Underfunding is preventing UNHCR from stepping up support to internally displaced people, including through flood response and mitigation.
Without sufficient funds, UNHCR is prioritizing life-saving support. People who have fled their homes need essentials such as shelter, blankets, plastic sheets, nets, containers for water, cooking utensils, and hygiene and sanitary kits. It is also crucial to continue support for peace-building projects and community-based interventions aimed at child protection and reducing gender-based violence.
Globally, the climate emergency is increasingly driving displacement and making life harder for those already uprooted. Those least responsible for global heating are now being hit hardest.
Communities with few resources or capacity to adapt face the worst impacts of an increasingly inhospitable environment. Time is running out for the most climate-vulnerable countries which are also home or host to most displaced people.