16 April 2014
The approaching rainy season in South Sudan is set to exacerbate an already vast humanitarian crisis, the British Red Cross has warned.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been made homeless by fighting in the world’s newest nation, while millions are reportedly in need of aid.
Heavy deluges have already hit the capital Juba, affecting displaced people sheltering in makeshift camps.
Across the country, an estimated 300,000 people made homeless by the conflict were living in camps prone to flooding and a relocation initiative has begun.
With the rainy season due to start in earnest around May or June, the situation could yet deteriorate according to Ben Webster, disaster response programme manager at the British Red Cross.
“There were chronic issues in South Sudan prior to the outbreak of fighting in December,” he said.
“Food shortages and poverty levels will be compounded by the forthcoming rainy season and the ongoing insecurity and fighting. So as a humanitarian situation it’s extremely worrying.”
Disease and sanitation
The spread of water-borne diseases among displaced communities is a big concern, especially where there is poor sanitation.
“If you’re living under plastic sheets without any proper sanitation facilities in the dry season, then that’s one thing,” said Ben, who has previously lived in the country.
“But if there’s rain and there’s open defecation out in the field, then the likelihood is of open sewage being washed around. Clearly this is going to have a big impact upon people’s health, particularly if they’re drinking open water sources.
“So our main concern is making sure there’s proper sanitation that won’t be affected by flood waters.”
A worst case scenario would be the spread of cholera, but other illnesses such as diarrhoea can also have a big impact particularly upon the young and elderly.
With hundreds of thousands of people displaced within South Sudan, there’s already an acute need for food and other relief items. The impact of the rainy season upon food supplies in the country will be twofold.
In the first instance, the delivery of aid will be significantly affected as roads turn into mud baths making them impassable to vehicles.
Entire communities could be cut off until the rains subside in October or November. Aid agencies have already started using airdrops to deliver food in some parts of South Sudan, but this is much more expensive and harder to plan.
“Delivering aid in the rainy season really will be a huge challenge, it’s really difficult to convey what it’s like in South Sudan during rainy season,” said Ben. “Staff and volunteers will have to walk long distances and wade through flood waters to reach isolated communities.
“The conflict is not the only issue here, there are also snakes and scorpions. It’s not a particularly friendly place to be wading through flood waters.”
Storing food stocks close to affected areas – something that the International Committee of the Red Cross is already doing – is essential to mitigate the problem of inaccessible roads.
But given the insecurity, there is a danger of warehouses being ransacked and looted.
The second consequence of the rainy season upon food insecurity in South Sudan is a lower crop yield.
“The rainy season is really critical because farmers have to sow their seeds when the rains have started,” explained Ben.
“If they plant after the first rain, but then it stops, the seeds will dry up and they’ll lose their crop. Every year the timing varies and I think it’s getting less and less predictable.”
The large displacement of people means fewer farmers will plant their seeds this year, leading to a high chance of lower yield and rising food prices.
“Food security is precarious at the best of times in South Sudan, it’s got some of the highest rates of malnutrition in the world,” continued Ben.
“So it’s critical there’s food in the markets and farmers are able to produce crops. The fighting will definitely impact on the seasonal trends and farming activities that should be going on, but they just become impossible because of the displacement.”
Red Cross aid
Since the conflict erupted, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), working with the South Sudan Red Cross, has been working to help people and save lives.
The ICRC has:
- Provided food for more than 100,000 people
- Performed more than 900 operations and cared for over 1,200 in-patients
- Provided clean water for nearly 40,000 displaced people
- Provided tents, cooking utensils and emergency shelter for nearly 112,000 people
- Arranged for more than 1,500 phone calls to be made from various camps to enable displaced people to contact family members.
The British Red Cross is supporting the ICRC and the South Sudan Red Cross in their work in South Sudan. Please donate to our appeal today.
Find out more about the South Sudan crisis.