Torrential rainfall is battering one of the world’s poorest countries, laying bare its weak infrastructure.

Flooding hits Bentiu, South Sudan in 2014. Photo © UN Photo/JC McIlwaine/Flickr Creative Commons

  • 700,000 people and counting have been affected by flooding in South Sudan.
  • The floods are just the latest strain on the country, which is already facing widespread hunger, civil conflict, and other climatic stressors.
  • The downpours illustrate how the world’s poorest countries are the most vulnerable to global climate change, U.N. agencies say.

By Laura Gersony, Circle of Blue — October 25, 2021

For weeks now, regions of South Sudan have faced the worst rainfall in over 50 years. Homes have been swept away, herds of cattle have drowned, and entire fields of sorghum and millet are inundated. According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the rains have affected 700,000 people and counting, though the death toll remains unknown.

“People have lived with flooding for millennia, but they have been able to cope. They have been able to move to higher ground when the floods are there, and then come down when they recede,” said Arafat Jamal, the UNHCR representative in South Sudan. “But when you have a high-level flooding year after year, that destroys the crops and does not allow you to replant. That is when you have got an erosion [of] peoples’ ability to survive.”

The severity and intensity of the storms is a result of global climate change, the agency says. It’s an issue to which the world’s poorest countries like South Sudan largely did not contribute—comprising just a sliver of global carbon emissions—but are the most vulnerable.

“The country is on the front line of the climate emergency, where the people are the collateral damage of a battle they did not pick, and from whose carbon-fuelled gains they scarcely benefit,” Jamal said.

The floods are just the latest strain on the country. Violence in South Sudan has eased since its civil war ended last year, but ethnic conflict, community grievances, as well as climatic stressors like drought and flooding continue to drive tensions in the region. Around 80 percent of the country’s population lives in poverty — among the highest in the world. About 8 million people in South Sudan are facing hunger or famine conditions.

The deluge laid bare underlying weaknesses in the country’s resiliency and infrastructure. South Sudan relies heavily on international aid, much of which has been jeopardized by donors’ mistrust of the government’s unaccountable spending and corruption. But looking away is not an option: aid is needed to prevent more death and suffering in the region. Currently, the U.N. and non-governmental organizations provide most key services such as health and education, and nearly the entire country relies on international food aid.

“The more that is lost, the more people become dependent on aid,” Jamal said.

The downpour promises to send waves through the country’s economy, as entire planting seasons have already been lost to the floods. With heavy rains projected to continue through the rest of this year, humanitarian groups say more help is needed.

“In order for the nation to bounce back, a more concerted effort to help families and their livelihoods adapt to the relentless and intensifying effects of climate change is imperative,” a U.N. brief reads. “UNHCR is calling on the international community to urgently assist affected communities to rebuild and protect people’s lives and livelihoods.”