Opinion | The need for flood management in South Sudan
The most horrifying situation is knowing that you will die, but there is nothing one can do about it. It is what it is. Nature has a cruel way of regulating its ecosystem. Although we accept old age and death as inevitable, that doesn't mean we accept death before our allotted time on this rock we call home in the universe. Humans, since time immemorial, have constantly looked for ways to fight death, and although they have never succeeded, they delay it. The word here is "delay." Simple.
We build hospitals to treat diseases and dialogue to stop fighting, ensuring people do not die needlessly before their natural time. But with all that said and done, many people are still dying prematurely, especially in South Sudan. Although the government and its partner agencies have strived to reduce death from diseases and conflict, South Sudanese society is threatened by a phenomenon beyond their control: Climate Change. Neither the people nor the government is responsible for this unfolding disaster.
According to the United Nations Climate Action, Climate change refers to a long-term shift in temperatures and weather patterns. These shifts have been natural, but the addition of human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas) since 1800, have been the main drivers of climate change. Fossil fuels generate greenhouse gas emissions which wrap the earth and blanket it-trapping the heat on the surface. This heat increase temperature and cause various weather shifts from drought to flooding. You heard that right: drought and flooding. Sound familiar? That is because you have either experienced it or your loved ones have been affected by it- wherever they are in South Sudan.
Nothing captures climate change's impact on South Sudan better than an old news piece article by CNN on 7th December 2021 titled “The World’s Newest Nation is Both Drying Up and Drowning” by Clarissa Ward and Brent Swails. Curiosity drew me to this contradictory news title when I first saw it. At first, I thought it was hysterical, but then I thought about it critically, and its meaning hit me like lightning bold. I had to read it, and by the end, the article had confirmed what I had always known or suspected. For contextual purposes, I am always suspicious of news and almost everything I read. As a self-described critical thinker, I do not take information at face value without questions, reading between the lines, and interpreting. Western news organizations have agendas and are never objective enough in their coverage of African countries, especially South Sudan- as such, one needs to be careful to avoid manipulation.
However, this article accurately captured the dire situation climate change placed on our people. Drought is killing our people; the flood is killing our people. Either way, we are doomed. Pick your poison. This title of the CNN article reminded me of an episode told among Jieng People of a man named Deng Adim or Something close to it (no offense to anyone with a similar name) who faced a dilemma of keeping his genitals in good condition. However, every time he oiled his pipe, it began to rot, and if he left it dry, it started cracking. Either way, his genitalia was doomed. This is the dilemma climate change has placed on our people.
The article begins like this: “Many main roads running through Unity State are now completely submerged, yet the traffic remains. There are no cars, just people; some swim, others wade, pushing through the heavy silt-laden water. The more lucky ones glide by on canoes with their livestock and whatever possessions they could salvage from the floods. In this traffic, between the cities of Bentiu and Ding Ding, is a group of women pushing to dislodge their makeshift raft that has become stuck in the mud, weighed down by six children. The men in the family went back north to keep their cattle safe, and the women were left to push for four days in the hope of reaching higher ground". For the last four years, South Sudan has dealt with biblical types of floods made worse by the climate crisis, to which the country has contributed little. Many people throughout the country died from floods directly or indirectly via related and cascading risks such as snake bites, malaria, and other waterborne diseases.
Floods impact is not only restricted to loss of lives and destruction of properties, but it also caused hunger as crops are swept away, farms submerged, and roads to markets or for delivery of humanitarian aid are cut off. Attacks from aquatic animals such as crocodiles and hippos increased manifold. According to the UN, intense and heavy rainfall, the worst in 60 years, has displaced more than 850,000 people in Unity, Jonglei, Northern Bahr El Ghazal, Warrap, and Eastern Equatoria. South Sudan is one of many places in the world struggling with this twin problem of drought followed by extreme rainfall, which creates prime conditions for devastating floods. Drought and floods all combined create food insecurity, creating deadly communal conflicts as people compete over the little available resources.
However, unlike the Deng Adim (a legendary fellow in a story fighting to keep his doomed genitals in good condition) saga, South Sudanese people have a way out of their dilemma and can delay death until its natural timeline: old age. We should not allow our people to die at an early age from factors that we can influence or control. We have not contributed to climate change in any substantial way, but we are the ones facing the brunt of this disaster; complaining about it is self-defeating. Flood fights need to be a national policy that requires all citizens to participate and must be community led with support from the government and its partner agencies. Leaving it to the NGOs is ineffective and temporary. The sustainable solution to flood risk management is within the South Sudanese people with resourced support from the government through MHADM.
The Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management (MHADM), an institution tasked by law to handle disasters, both natural and man-made, has been inactive in tackling floods. NGOs, both national and international, have been leading the fight. This NGO fights against flood situation is unstainable. I have heard so many inadmissible excuses from the Ministry: no money. As much as plausible that reason may Sound, I beg to disagree. There is money in the Ministry. The absence of MHADM from the flood fight is not a lack of funds.
Two significant factors are plaguing the institution, and lack of money is not one of them. First, 90% of the employee in the Ministry, according to my estimate, have yet to learn what a disaster is. How do you trust them to develop mitigation measures against disasters and allocate appropriate resources when they lack capacity in knowledge and skills? (I may be wrong, and I am open to correction). This is just my observation. Secondly, there is a massive trust in "our father"-Mr. Nice old NGO. Nothing is distressing and annoying like hearing government officials say, "we call upon the NGOs to…………………" every time there is a flood in the country. The government has more resources than all the NGOs in this country combined, yet this slogan never stops. One begins to wonder what the function of MHADM is. A large section of employees with little capacity for knowledge and skills development in disaster risk reduction and management, a massive trust in NGOs' ability, and misallocating resources within the Ministry mean that priorities are upside down.
MHADM, with support from international partners, developed good disaster Management documents, but this mitigation measure requires a lot of upgrades and improvement. I borrowed and read many of these disaster management documents from the Ministry. However, there is a gap between the written documents and the actual practice of these policies on the ground. Translation of written work into practice to fight floods in our communities needs to be improved. South Sudan cannot fully develop and take its seat among nations as an equal if it fails to invest in climate-related mitigation measures. Whether we like it or not, our development is tied to climate investment. We can build a million kilometres of paved roads, but floods will wash them away, and we start from zero again. We must push the government to allocate enough resources to build flood defenses and preserve forest resources. There is a need for a joint operation between MHADM and the Ministry of Environment. Disaster is a comprehensive institutional problem and affects everyone in the country, so money and qualified human resources must be poured into MHADM.
We need to have a sober and in-depth conversation about floods and drought in South Sudan. Until we do, we are doomed, and as terrifying as it may be, early death will be our constant companion because of floods.
Mading Peter Angong is a South Sudanese national pursuing a Master of Science in Disaster Intervention and Humanitarian Aid at the University of Stirling in Scotland, UK. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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