By Maria Mitri
Climate change, usually discussed in politics as a distant consequence of human action, has arrived in South Sudan with full force and has struck its cities and communities relentlessly. To date, more than 700,000 people have been affected by the most recent flooding in South Sudan, a number that most experts blame on the extreme impacts of climate change in the form of heavy rains and floods, the worst of which some parts of the country haven’t encountered in decades. The state known as Unity in Sudan has been struck the hardest, with eight of the country’s ten total states being impacted. Other heavily impacted states include Jonglei, Northern Bar el Ghazal, and Upper Nile. According to the Global Climate Index, South Sudan is a country especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. If global temperatures rise as predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, this heavy rainfall and subsequent flooding will only get worse and further threaten the people of South Sudan.
In general, the heavy rains have destroyed homes and farmlands across all of South Sudan, indiscriminate of any village or town. Reuters reported that many Sudanese people have resorted to eating grass and roots, and have trekked on foot for days in search of any dry land. Currently, there is little hope for access to humanitarian relief, as the floods are expected to continue through the rest of the year and prove to be a formidable foe to any transport or evacuation plan.
One of the only adaptation strategies available for Sudanese people, fleeing to higher land, can also lead to an increase civil conflict as new people are now emigrating into established communities. Although South Sudan as a whole has been pummeled by these torrential rains and floods, the regions hit hardest are two specific towns in Unity: Bentiu and Rubkona.
The number of internally displaced persons in these two regions alone have increased from 90,000 to approximately 120,000. ReliefWeb recently reported that this relentless flooding has driven tens of thousands of families to flee their villages in Unity. However, this flooding is not random for these towns as it has consistently persisted for three years due to the consecutive nature of these extreme weather events. The resiliency of the affected communities has been greatly diminished and their ability to cope and adapt is now limited, per Reuters.
In Bentiu specifically, the water initially invaded in February of this year, and shows no sign of stopping. Aside from internal displacement, these floods pose a great health risk, as drowned animals in combination with the presence of human waste in the water create a perfect environment for the survival of waterborne diseases and malaria-bearing mosquitoes. This is dangerous not just because people move and walk through the water, but also because children swim in this water as an escape from the heat, and many mothers forage for resources in these waters to help rebuild homes or some type of shelter.
UNICEF reported an increase in the region in diarrhea, respiratory infections, malaria, and general malnutrition, mostly in children and infants. UNICEF's primary concern moving forward is the next round of heavy rainfall will only compound this severe health risk.
Bentiu, arguably the most affected town in South Sudan, has received an incredible amount of internally displaced persons. The camp in Bentiu that most displaced people seek refuge at is classified by the United Nations as a Protection of Civilians site, referred to by the acronym PoC, and is the biggest base of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan. As of January 2021, the camp was hosting approximately 95,980 people.
By November 2021, AllAfrica reported that the internally displaced persons camp in the city reached at least 120,000 people, with almost 12,000 estimated to have arrived within a matter of weeks. The local hospital has been forced to convert meeting rooms and dead space in the hospital to outpatient departments and a pediatric ward, as the number of children currently in the hospital with severe malnutrition has doubled since the floods began. The hospital has added 45 extra beds to its existing 135 to better handle the rapid influx of patients, but is still struggling as it is functioning past its limits.
According to Doctors Without Borders, the flooding has endangered more than 150,000 people who were already displaced in Bentiu alone. Humanitarian aid has not come fast enough, and the failure to respond promptly has left thousands in Bentiu displacement camps living in life-threatening conditions. The flooding has disconnected the displacement camp in Bentiu from the sewage treatment site, thus leaving the camp with no usable restrooms.
Many experts say that the exposure of the IDPs in Bentiu to unsanitary living conditions and the diseases that follow are preventable and relies on the deployment of aid at a rapid rate.
As of November 23, 2021, ReliefWeb reports that Sudan has a total of 3.03 million internally displaced people. Sudan is just one of many countries severely impacted by climate change, and many more will be affected as the global temperature continues to rise. The current crisis in Sudan of torrential rains and floods, in conjunction with the back-to-back years of similar weather events and slow deployment of aid, have created a massive displacement crisis in the country, and an accompanying spread of disease. Without support for vulnerable communities like Bentiu and other towns and states in Sudan, these extreme weather events will bear even worse effects in the future, causing greater displacement, disease, and death.