Six things you should know about the floods in South Sudan

As widespread flooding in South Sudan has left hundreds of thousands in need, our teams are on the ground, working to save lives

03 Dec 19

Large parts of South Sudan are underwater.

Floods are a regular occurrence across the landlocked country in East-Central Africa, but this year’s rainy season has been unusually heavy, bringing flash floods that have inundated whole towns.  

Hundreds of thousands have lost their homes, crops and cattle.

"I have never seen floods like this, I’m not sure we will survive"
myawalpobor resident

Many have been left stranded by the floods, marooned on small islands of land and cut off from basic services and healthcare. 

1. Large areas of the country have been affected

In October, the Government of South Sudan declared a state of emergency in 27 flood-affected areas.

The worst affected areas are spread across six counties: Ayod, Maban, Mayom, Nyirol, Pibor and Uror in the Greater Upper Nile Region.

A map of the flood-affected areas.

“I have never seen floods like this, I’m not sure we will survive,” says Myawal, a resident of Pobor,  one of the many villages affected by flooding in the Greater Ulang area.

2. People are struggling to meet their basic needs

People have lost everything. Their homes. Their belongings. Their livelihoods.

MSF teams are already on the ground. From their reports we know that the immediate needs include access to safe drinking water; plastic sheeting to be used as shelter for families with damaged or destroyed houses; basic drugs, especially anti-malarials; food; and non-food items, such as mosquito nets and cooking pots.

3. But reaching people in need is difficult

Getting around remote areas in South Sudan is a challenge year-round due to the geography of the country and security concerns. But now, reaching people in need is even harder.

The floods have cut off people’s access to basic services and are restricting MSF’s ability to assess and respond to their needs.

We are extremely concerned for the communities we are here to support, but also for those we cannot reach.

4. And there’s more rain on the way...

The South Sudan Meteorological Department and US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast rains to continue through December, and the flood risk remains high.

In some outlying areas in Pibor and Ulang, water levels are not receding.

5. Increasing the threat of disease...

Such devastation is likely to have roll-on effects for the people of South Sudan.

Major loss of crops and livestock could worsen food insecurity and malnutrition, while contaminated waters can carry life-threatening diseases.

A child is checked for signs of malnutrition.

In Pibor, dead animals are decomposing in the floodwaters, which are used by local people for bathing, washing and drinking.

MSF teams are seeing an increase in water- and insect-borne diseases like acute watery diarrhoea, respiratory tract infections, and malaria. These diseases are already three of the biggest killers in South Sudan for children under five, so prompt medical care is key.

Contaminated water and congested living conditions bring other risks too: deadly diseases such as cholera, hepatitis A and measles

“Access is the biggest issue, cleanliness is almost an impossibility," says Tyson Hegarty, MSF nurse activity manager in Pibor, where MSF is operating out of a tent after its hospital flooded.

6. But MSF teams are on the ground, working to deliver aid

MSF emergency teams are working around the clock to overcome logistical obstacles and provide support to people in need of life-saving assistance. 

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In Lankien, we have hired local people to distribute about 2,000 aid packages to affected households in the region. This means help gets to those who needs it, and provides a source of income for families whose livelihoods have been destroyed. 

The packages include a solution for purifying water and a mosquito net to prevent mosquito-borne diseases. 

“Our intervention is focusing on the most affected people,” says Piex Uwiragiye, MSF’s medical coordinator in Ulang, northeast South Sudan.

“For those villages, we are providing mobile clinics and non-food items, which include plastic sheets, blankets, cooking pots, mosquito nets and other items that are needed in daily life.”

FIVE THINGS I LEARNT FROM MY YEAR IN MSF'S EMERGENCY TEAM