Explainer: Flooding Worsens Humanitarian Crises in Sudan and South Sudan

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Flooding throughout Africa’s Sahel region has exacerbated humanitarian crises in Sudan and South Sudan, two countries undergoing political transition while battling food insecurity, armed conflict, and COVID-19.

While the region experiences a rainy season annually between June and September, this year’s flooding has caused the Nile River to reach its highest levels since record keeping began more than a century ago. Flooding has destroyed or damaged over 150,000 homes in Sudan and affected more than 800,000 people since July, including 125,000 refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs).

In South Sudan, the flooding has affected 800,000 people and displaced over 365,000, adding to already high levels of internal displacement. Even before this year’s flooding began, one-third of the country remained displaced because of civil war that broke out after the country gained independence from Sudan in 2011. Despite a 2018 peace agreement and the recent establishment of a transitional government, South Sudan’s peace process remains slow, and inter-communal violence, including conflict-related sexual violence, continues.

What’s at Stake?

Displacement, food insecurity, and water and vector-borne diseases threaten lives and livelihoods in both countries.

In Sudan, flooding and landslides have damaged large areas of farmland, combining with high inflation, locust swarms, armed conflict, and the spread of COVID-19 to intensify record-high levels of food insecurity in the country. Flooding has contaminated water sources and destroyed health facilities and latrines, making sanitation and disease containment more difficult. People in affected areas are in danger of contracting malaria and water-borne diseases. Flooding also increases the risk of snakebites. To complicate matters, the government of Sudan reported a polio outbreak in August, and COVID-19 continues to spread: as of October 11, Sudan had 13,691 confirmed cases. Aid organizations report an urgent need for more funding, and in September Sudan’s transitional civilian-military government declared a three-month state of emergency.

In South Sudan, food insecurity remains high, and COVID-19 is hampering the distribution of humanitarian assistance. As in Sudan, snakebites, malaria, and water-borne diseases due to the flooding and unsanitary conditions remain a threat. Of particular concern is the safety of IDPs living in Protection of Civilian (POC) sites guarded by peacekeeping forces of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). In September, UNMISS announced that it would begin withdrawing its forces from the POC sites, turning them into IDP camps under the jurisdiction of the South Sudanese government. Residents of the camps have said that they do not want this transition and do not feel safe under the government’s protection. Humanitarians have long warned against closing the POC sites prematurely. To avoid further humanitarian suffering, UNMISS must ensure that any transition is gradual, transparent, and done in close collaboration with POC residents and the humanitarians providing them with aid and protection.

What’s Being Done?

Humanitarian organizations have supplied more than 400,000 people in Sudan with food, shelter, and medical assistance, but thousands more are in need of aid, and residents are mobilizing to help each other amid what many characterize as an inadequate government response. The United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator of South Sudan, Alain Noudéhou, has pulled $10 million from the South Sudan Humanitarian Fund, but he says South Sudan needs $80 million in total for flooding response.

The Sudan and South Sudan Humanitarian Response Plans for 2020 are both less than 50 percent funded, and stocks of aid supplies are being “depleted rapidly.”

As both countries continue to grapple with multiple crises, the international community must donate more to support humanitarian efforts. In Sudan, aid is especially needed in North Darfur, Khartoum, Blue Nile, West Darfur, and Sennar states, and the hardest hit areas in South Sudan include the Jonglei and Lakes states. The main aid priorities include clean water, shelter, food, health services, and hygiene products. Funding for health services and water, sanitation, and hygiene services is extremely low, and funding is urgently needed to help protect the lives and livelihoods of the millions of people in Sudan and South Sudan who are severely food insecure. IDPs, refugees, poor people in urban areas, and people in rural areas and conflict zones are the most affected by food insecurity.

Sustained humanitarian aid must be complemented by redoubled diplomatic efforts in the two countries. The international community should support Sudan through a historic transition from years of authoritarian rule and push South Sudan’s transitional government past delays. Failure to improve governance will leave the countries perpetually vulnerable to humanitarian shocks. As the devastation of this year’s flooding shows, millions of lives are at stake.

A woman leaves her shop with items to delivers to her customers in a flooded area after the Nile river overflowed after continuous heavy rain which caused thousands of people to be displaced in Bor, central South Sudan, on August 9, 2020. (Photo by Akuot CHOL / AFP) (Photo by AKUOT CHOL/AFP via Getty Images)