By Henry Beglinger
South Sudan currently has a population of 10.75 million people, over nine million of which are in need of humanitarian assistance according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
There are a variety of factors contributing to this overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe, the most acute being severe flooding and intercommunal violence. In particular, this violence has spread to include workers from various aid organizations, making relief efforts all the more difficult.
"Since the conflict began in 2013, 141 humanitarian workers, predominantly South Sudanese, have lost their lives while providing assistance"
Due to its geographical location, South Sudan is one of the most vulnerable nations to climate change related events. Unlike many African nations which often experience long periods of drought, South Sudan is extremely susceptible to severe flooding. In 2022, the state faced its fourth consecutive year of record rainfall. This intense flooding not only washes away entire villages and families’ homes, it drowns crops, kills livestock and encourages the spread of waterborne diseases like cholera.
These quickly compound one another. Without crops and livestock, malnutrition increases, the risk of severe famine rises, and medical facilities are not able to safely operate in flooded areas. Consequently, premature deaths throughout the state skyrocket. Aline Serin, the head of the Doctors Without Borders mission in South Sudan, explains, “This lack of access inhibits our ability to bring in medical supplies and other essential items, which puts lives at risk. It also impacts our ability to transfer patients who require emergency treatment”.
Furthermore, in an attempt to protect their homes and families from flooding, the South Sudanese build soil dams or walls. However, due to the intensity of the flooding lately, these have failed to provide sufficient protection, and people are left escaping to higher ground with only the clothes on their backs.
In addition to the record flooding, communal violence has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan. The violence ranges from looting, sexual assault and abductions. Radio Tamazuj, a South Sudan news station, is filled with headlines detailing this violence. From deadly cattle raids, to seemingly random surprise attacks on villages, there is seemingly no respite.
The most harrowing news has been that acts of violence are now being directed towards NGO and foreign aid workers across the South Sudan state. Aside from the obvious, the most alarming aspect of these killings is that it has and will continue to discourage aid groups from entering South Sudan in a time where they should be the number one priority for assistance.
Aid workers and aid stations are being targeted for the supplies they stock – medical supplies, clean water, and food – making them vulnerable to those people desperate for resources and willing to use violence to survive. Radio Tamazuj writes, “South Sudan continues to be one of the most dangerous places for aid workers. Nine humanitarian workers have been killed in the line of duty in 2022, compared to five in 2021. Since the conflict began in 2013, 141 humanitarians, predominantly South Sudanese, have lost their lives while providing humanitarian assistance to people”.
In 2023 the people of South Sudan will continue to face this myriad of catastrophes. Despite the tireless work of various humanitarian aid groups, foreign governments and the United Nations, seemingly more and more South Sudanese will continue to need help.
Climate change related disasters are not going away anytime soon, and the violence that has spread to every corner despite various intercessions and cease-fires is constantly at risk of getting worse.