“Of course I worry about my children,” she said. “This is why we keep moving forward.”
Ravaged by years of conflict, there has been barely enough peacetime in the world’s newest nation to begin building. Only 200 kilometers of its roads are paved. Today, South Sudan faces a biblical flood that began as early as June and has been made worse by the climate crisis, which it did not help create.
For years South Sudan has experienced wetter-than-normal wet seasons, while its dry seasons have become even drier. The rainy season is over, but the water that has accumulated over the months has not yet receded.
South Sudan is one of many places in the world struggling with this twin problem of drought followed by extreme rainfall, which together creates ideal conditions for devastating floods.
Isolated towns like Ding Ding are now largely abandoned. The traditional straw roofs of many of the houses here rise above the waterline, their walls still submerged.
Some foraging people here have resorted to consuming the lilies that have started to sprout on the surface of the floodwaters, as a whole new ecosystem begins to form in this drastically altered landscape.
It is a grim picture for a country that is only 10 years old. After gaining independence from Sudan in 2011, just two and a half years later, South Sudan sank into a brutal civil war that only ended last year. Deadly inter-communal violence continues to be rife as people fight for increasingly scarce pasture.
Competing for resources
South Sudan is no stranger to seasonal flooding, but Unity State officials say they have not seen anything of this magnitude since the early 1960s. Ninety percent of the land in the country The state have been affected by flooding and the next rainy season is only five months away. Bentiu officials fear the situation will only get worse.
“We are told that the water behind me will not go away now, that it will not recede or dry up. It will take some time because it is deep water,” Minister Lam Tungwar said. Kueigwong, Minister of the State for Lands, Housing and Utilities.
Scientists are now able to calculate to what extent the climate crisis may have played a role in most extreme weather events. But in this part of the world, it is notoriously difficult to measure with certainty because its natural climate shows huge variations initially.
The world is already 1.2 degrees Celsius hotter than it was before it began to industrialize, and Africa as a whole is experiencing temperature increases higher than the global average.
To those facing this problem in South Sudan, the climate crisis is clearly already here and offers the rest of the world a glimpse of the complications it could bring.
“We are feeling the climate change. We are feeling it,” said John Payai Manyok, the country’s deputy director for climate change.
“We feel droughts, we feel floods. And it becomes a crisis. It leads to food insecurity, it leads to more conflicts in the region because people compete for the few available resources.”
While droughts and floods may seem like polar opposites, they have more relationships than is obvious.
“After a long period of drought, the soil can be hardened, can be very dry, and therefore you are going to have more runoff (rainwater), which will exacerbate the risk of flooding,” said Caroline Wainwright, a climate scientist at the University of Reading, who studies the East African region.
“And all of that also potentially contributes to bigger storms and more intense precipitation. It’s something we would expect to see more – dry spells and these really intense storms.”
The question is no longer just how to clean up the mess, but how to adapt to better withstand these extreme weather disasters.
As its neighboring countries move forward by building more permanent dams and dikes, South Sudan has failed to adapt and remains at the mercy of its rivers, Manyok said. Human activity also worsens the health of rivers and their ability to hold water during heavy rains.
Manyok said the country is in desperate need of adaptation.
“We need to introduce water-friendly and efficient technologies, and along the Nile we need to build dams and remove siltation,” Manyok said.
Siltation is usually caused by erosion of sediment or soil, and can build up in rivers and block the natural flow of water, aggravating flooding.
A destroyed school
Sections of Rubkona, a market town next to the Unity state capital, Bentiu, have been abandoned. The markets and houses here are ghostly, submerged by water that continues to rise at a slow and winding pace.
Nearby, Pakistani engineers from the UN mission use the few heavy machinery available to repair and reinforce a hastily constructed mud dike that has kept the airport and a camp of nearly 120,000 displaced on one ground. dry. UN officials say a breach here would be catastrophic.
The battle is constant because every day the water continues to climb up the wall of the dike. It seeps through the red clay road towards the trail and the camp gates.
The vast majority of the displaced arrived years ago, after fleeing the brutal civil war in South Sudan. They now share increasingly limited space and resources with newcomers.
A Médecins Sans Frontières hospital inside the camp is overcapacity. Staff are treating a massive increase in the number of malnourished babies since the flooding began.
“We had 130 cases last month. Previously, we could have 30 to 40 in a month,” said managing director Kie John Kuol.
Back in Ding Ding, the town’s school, which was rebuilt in 2017 after burning down during the civil war, is also partially submerged in water – progress is on hold again. According to UNICEF, the floods destroyed, closed or prevented access to more than 500 schools in South Sudan.
As teacher Kuol Gany visits his classroom, the water hits his knees. Behind him is a scribbled array of English equations and word definitions.
“Relief is assistance given to people in the event of a disaster,” reads one definition.
Gany only taught in this new building for a few years before the floods. He fears he will have to abandon her, and even her city, for good.
“It keeps increasing, the water,” he said. “There are diseases and there are snakebites. And we also drink this water.”
James Ling, a resident of Ding Ding, said he briefly returned to see what he could get from his eight-year-old home. He waded through the water to reach his house, only to find nothing, except the drawings of his children on the walls.
“Since the conflict broke out, we have never had rest,” he said. “We constantly ran, moved. Our children were not relieved of the dangers.”