The Future is Equal

As rains in South Sudan start again, communities face more flooding amid a growing hunger crisis, says Oxfam

Increased flooding in South Sudan threatens to deepen the dire hunger crisis, with an estimated 8.3 million people expected to experience severe food insecurity in the coming months.

Just weeks after devastating floodwaters finally receded across South Sudan, rains have begun again with dire humanitarian consequences expected.

In this narrow window between receding and rising waters, Oxfam and other humanitarians are acting urgently to reach communities that had been cut off by flooding and unrest to assess the need. As the full scale of the crisis is becoming clearer, the humanitarian community is scaling up our response and preparations to help communities cope with the current rainy season and calling for more resources and access to save lives.

The arrival of a heavy rainy season has left communities without a chance to recover – if projections hold true, the current rainy season will potentially bring additional flooding later this year and another cycle of hunger, displacement, and disease.

This is the latest in an unprecedented cycle of climate disasters, as cycles of extreme drought followed by heavy rainfall have caused devastating floods for the fifth consecutive year in South Sudan. The worst impacts have been felt in Upper Nile, Lakes, and Jonglei states, affecting 835,000 people, and forcing 350,000 to flee their homes, according to OCHA. This flooding is one of the many-layered crises, in addition to intercommunal conflict, COVID-19, and more, that is leading to a growing hunger crisis across the country. One that has already left over 7.19 million people struggling with crisis levels of food insecurity (IPC Phase 3 or higher).

According to the 2022 HNO, the people of South Sudan will experience the highest level of food insecurity in their history with an estimated 8.3 million people (including refugees) expected to experience severe food insecurity by the peak of the lean season (May – July 2022), 7% more than 2021 which had 7.7 million people at the same level during the same period. To respond to this hunger crisis Oxfam South Sudan alongside other Oxfam Countries in the horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia) has declared the Hunger crisis a Category 1 emergency calling for an urgent humanitarian scale-up. Through this response, Oxfam South Sudan hopes to reach 383,000 people with a multi-sectorial lifesaving Food Security, WASH, and Protection response.

Oxfam in South Sudan’s Acting Country Director, Juliet Moriku Balikowa said, “After historic flooding, families have been pushed past the brink. We’re just now able to reach some of the worst-impacted communities, and soon many will be cut off again by more rains. So many people are without clean drinking water and safe hygiene and have lost their homes, crops, livestock, and livelihoods – the tools they would need to get back on their feet. The flooding is only the latest deadly challenge South Sudanese people are facing and we will only see this hunger crisis grow exponentially if we don’t see a massive and urgent humanitarian scale-up. We have a narrow window and donors, leaders, and humanitarians must act now.”

Hunger is a massive threat and is only set to grow – There were already areas of South Sudan categorized as “famine-likely” last year, and this additional climate shock has driven communities into an even deeper food crisis, such as farmland, crops, seeds, and livestock have been devastated. These losses are especially painful in a context of already severe levels of hunger and where the resilience of communities has been seriously eroded by years of conflict.

The flooding has additional knock-on effects – it has forced people into cramped communal living – another risk during COVID-19 – on top of the risks of sexual and gender-based violence and other health risks. It’s also putting South Sudan’s fragile education system in jeopardy as many schools have been forced to close while they’re used as shelters for the displaced. As Oxfam reported last year, school disruptions are particularly harmful to girls, who have struggled to pick their studies back up due to increased child marriage, family obligations, and more.

While Oxfam and partners have been adapting to address the flooding and its impacts, the response is insufficient due to funding, access, and other factors – and people’s needs are growing by the day as their small savings and other coping measures run out.“In Walgak, after distribution of unconditional cash assistance to 500 most vulnerable households, most of which have children and women suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition and Moderate Acute Malnutrition. We see them feeling helpless and overwhelmed as their needs surpass our resources. We are concerned that women are still seen walking long hours to get wild foods to feed their families”, says Lakes Tesfaw, Oxfam Program Manager in Walgak.

Oxfam condemns the continued violence against humanitarians and civilians and calls on the government and armed groups to ensure that humanitarians are protected as they deliver lifesaving aid. The recent attacks on aid workers add to a terrible legacy of violence that makes South Sudan one of the most dangerous places in the world to deliver humanitarian assistance and appealing to those with power to provide unhindered access to humanitarian workers

 Ms. Balikowa added, “South Sudanese communities impacted by repeated flooding and growing hunger – on top of the seemingly endless cycle of challenges they meet every day – need urgent support so they can recover, rebuild, and form a foundation to withstand future shocks like these. But, in the long term, the people of South Sudan ultimately need sustainable peace – to help prepare for and respond to massive issues like the climate crisis together. Communities and the humanitarian workers striving to support them must be protected and given the resources to meet these challenges head-on.”