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Severe flooding in Fangak South Sudan

On the frontline of the climate crisis

Record floods are worsening a food crisis in South Sudan

Published on 9 November 2021

South Sudan is facing record-breaking floods caused by extreme weather that is not only destroying homes and livelihoods but also pushing millions closer to famine.

COP26 is a key moment for the world to finally do what is necessary to protect developing countries from the worst effects of the climate crisis as well as compensating them for the havoc wreaked by extreme weather.

In August, the Secretary-General for the United Nations António Guterres dubbed a newly published report by leading UN climate scientists as a ‘code red for humanity.’ The report warned of temperature rises beyond safe limits and more extreme weather such as flooding and drought unless countries take rapid and drastic action to reduce global emissions. 

Despite the climate crisis being a global emergency, not all countries are affected equally with poorer countries, who have done least to cause the climate crisis and have the least resources to protect themselves, impacted most. The report found that in Africa in particular, the speed of temperature rises has generally been faster than the global average and that this is being driven by climate change.

Christian Aid sees the consequences of the climate crisis every day in the countries where we work. Increasingly frequent and unpredictable extreme weather such as flooding and drought is forcing people from their homes and also contributing to hunger crises. 

One of the most striking examples is South Sudan, where extreme weather caused by rising global temperatures, as well as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and years of conflict have all fuelled food shortages. The situation has become so dire that there are estimated to be over 100,000 people currently facing famine-like conditions as well as 7.2 million people who will struggle to get enough food to eat.

South Sudan is currently experiencing its worst flooding in nearly 60 years which is pushing vulnerable communities even closer to the brink of famine. 760,000 people across South Sudan have been affected by unrelenting floods from weeks of heavy rains, which have swept away homes and devastated farmlands.

The UN has said families and livestock have been forced to seek safety on higher ground and in neighbouring towns.

The majority of people in South Sudan depend on growing enough crops and raising enough livestock to be able to feed their families, leaving them particularly vulnerable to extreme weather like flooding.

As James Wani, Christian Aid’s South Sudan Country Director explains; “The flooding destroys everything. People have lost their crops and their livestock. When the water does finally recede, people will return to nothing. We are only going to see the hunger crisis escalate over the next few months.

Woman takes goats to safety in boat after flooding in Fangak South Sudan

Fangak County: A woman takes her goats to safety from flooding. - African Development Aid/Christian Aid

In recent years Jonglei state in eastern South Sudan, like other parts of the country, has experienced abnormally high levels of rainfall and flooding. This year the rains in South Sudan arrived earlier than usual, coming in April instead of June, causing the water levels of the river Nile and river Lol and Sud wetlands to swell and flood.

In Jonglei, Fangak County has been one of the worst affected areas. Our local partner working on the ground in Fangak told us that the situation is deteriorating. Whole communities have been submerged, and cattle are dying every day because they have no grass to feed on. People do not have food and medicines – the situation is truly desperate.

With funding from Start Fund, Christian Aid together with our local partner African Aid Development (ADA) is providing emergency life-saving support including blankets, mosquito nets, water purification tablets and cash to flood-affected families in Fangak County. In neighbouring Unity state, with funding from the Scottish government, Christian Aid’s local partner UNIDOR will be providing cash, farming seeds and tools and fishing kits to families facing a food crisis because of the impact of flooding on their harvests. 

Christian Aid has been working to support farming communities to cope with the worst effects of climate change, including helping them alleviate the impact of flooding. With funding from Irish Aid, Christian Aid constructed dykes last year across Aweil in Northern Bahr el Ghazal state with our local partner Support for Peace and Education Development Programme (SPEDP). These dykes help to protect crops and homes from flooding by redirecting flood water back to lower sections of the river. Our local partner SPEDP have also trained community members on how to build dykes in order to protect themselves before flooding occurs.

Women dig trench in South Sudan

Silvano Yokwe/Christian Aid - Achol Garang Atak (fourth from left) digs a trench alongside other members of her community as part of dyke construction. Our partner trained community members on how to build dykes in order to protect their homes and farmland

This is the third year in a row that South Sudan has faced devastating floods. Last year, flooding caused widespread damage to 30-year-old mother of five Achol Garang Atak’s village in Aweil west, wiping out farms and livestock and collapsing houses, including her own. Some in the village died when their houses collapsed while others were forced to leave the village for good.

The floods demolished and destroyed farms, grass and seeds. There was not a single grain harvested.

- Achol.

Achol Garang Atak with her daughter Nyibob Akuei in South Sudan

Silvano Yokwe/Christian Aid - Achol Garang Atak with her two year old daughter.

Yet despite the scale of the damage, the village was spared complete destruction due to a dyke constructed by Christian Aid’s local partner SPEDP with support from Irish Aid.

This is an example of an ‘adaption’ project that helps protect communities from the impact of extreme weather. And projects like this, especially those on a far grander scale, have to be at the heart of global efforts to support developing countries on the climate crisis frontline.

Unfortunately, the world’s richest countries have so far failed to deliver on their pledge to give $100 billion each year in climate finance, to help developing countries to pay for the cost of protecting themselves from the worsening impact of climate change as well as get their own emissions down.

Christian Aid is attending the UN Climate Conference COP26 in Glasgow and is calling on wealthy, high emitting countries to uphold their promise to provide climate finance to lower-income countries and commit to giving even more to match the scale of what is needed.

We are also asking for a separate fund to be created to compensate those who have suffered ‘loss and damage’ from the impact of extreme weather. Loss and damage covers the destruction of homes, land and livelihoods from extreme weather such as cyclones and flooding as well as slow-onset emergencies such as rising sea levels caused by rising global temperatures, and compensation is needed to help developing countries bounce back from these disasters.

For countries like South Sudan, a successful COP26 would see them receiving no-strings-attached climate finance grants so that they invest in protecting more of their vital farmland and grazing land from flooding. A COP26 focused on those living on the frontline of the climate crisis would also see South Sudan receive the funds they need to help communities like Achol’s get back on its feet the next time disaster strikes.

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