Reaching Those Most Vulnerable Amid Floods and Conflict in South Sudan

Reaching Those Most Vulnerable Amid Floods and Conflict in South Sudan

Liatile Putsoa, IOM South Sudan Media and Communications Officer.

Pibor – It is early morning, and a group of humanitarian aid workers assemble at a river port in Pibor. They’re from various United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Pibor is the main town in South Sudan’s Greater Pibor Administration Area (GPAA).

Well, sometimes it’s a river port, but not now. Due to steady, heavy rains, Pibor’s main roads are inundated. What was once a bustling market in the heart of Pibor town, now is submerged under flood waters. Pibor is one of the areas in this impoverished, violence-wracked country being hardest hit by the floods.

“Let’s get going,” calls out Richard Luguma, OCHA’s National Field Coordination Officer. “We have a long day ahead of us.”

The aid workers divide into five groups for an inter-agency needs’ assessment mission, each group covering one of five selected locations—Pibor, Lekuangole, Gumuruk, Verthet and Duren for an inter-agency needs’ assessment mission.

Liatile Putsoa and William Lagu, the pair from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), join a group heading to Lekuangole, a remote village in the north of Pibor.

IOM joins an inter-agency needs’ assessment mission to Lekuangole, Greater Pibor Administration Area. Photo: IOM/Liatile Putsoa

The three hours on the speed boat meandering along the river go by quickly – due in no small part, perhaps, to the sheer beauty of the surroundings and their tranquility. It is hard to fathom : hidden behind the lush trees and grass lies much suffering, with communities that have lost their homes, livelihoods and, too often, family members, from fighting and the floods.

Eventually we reach Lekuangole, tucked away along the river’s bend.

The situation here is dire.

Shelters stand empty after rising water levels forced families to vacate. Photo: IOM/Liatile Putsoa

Much of the village is flooded. There is no health facility in sight. Boreholes are broken. Bare, uncultivated fields are a stark reminder that, instead of farmers planting, they were fleeing gunfire when armed clashes broke out earlier this year.

Local authorities and residents alike speak of the humanitarian needs they face, particularly for food, drinking water, shelter and medical services.

“We had to run to the bush and hide when the fighting started,” explained Kalayin Amor, a resident of Lekuangole, who is unsure of her age. “When we came back, our cattle were gone, and our homes were levelled to the ground. We had nothing!”

Kalayin’s story is not unique in the village.

“We are all suffering, so it is not even possible to depend on our neighbours for food and shelter,” said the mother of four.

Kalayin and her family sought refuge at what was once a local school. Photo: IOM/Liatile Putsoa

With another child on the way, Kalayin sought refuge at a local school where she lives with her children and an elderly mother-in-law.

As Kalayin, and many others reeled from the conflict’s devastation, their lives again were disrupted by the unforgiving rains and massive flash floods.

The flooding has cut off access to Lekuangole, adding more difficulty to an already under-pressure humanitarian aid response.

Nonetheless, aid organizations—including IOM—remain steadfast, continuing to bring life-saving humanitarian assistance to Lekuangole and surrounding areas. As part of this response, IOM released critical shelter and non-food relief items to humanitarian partners to distribute to the most vulnerable people, including Kalayin and her family.

Kalayin Amor. Photo: IOM/Liatile Putsoa

“We received blankets, sleeping mats, mosquito nets and, kitchen sets, which are helping us very much,” Kalayin said.

Families that are rebuilding homes on higher and dry ground have also received plastic sheeting to help with the construction of their shelters.

Families sought refuge at higher ground, erecting temporary shelters. Photo: IOM/Liatile Putsoa

Meanwhile, an assessment by IOM’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) teams found that there are no household latrines in the village. Open defecation is rampant. Furthermore, there is an urgent need to repair five broken boreholes that are still accessible on higher ground.

“Currently, the entire community relies on only one water borehole that still works, as the other two functional boreholes have been completely submerged,” explained IOM’s WASH Assistant Engineer, William Lagu. “If this borehole breaks, the community will have no access to safe drinking water.”

One borehole serves the entire community of Lekuangole. Photo: IOM/Liatile Putsoa<

As part of an initial quick response, the IOM WASH team distributed water purification tablets to the most vulnerable and demonstrated the proper usage of the household water treatment process.

The inter-agency initial rapid needs assessment report found that more than 95,800 people in the five locations selected—including almost 26,000 in Lekuangole—were in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. This is only a fraction of an estimated 856,000 people that have been affected by flooding across South Sudan since July.

A borehole completely submerged. Photo: IOM/Liatile Putsoa

“We have seen that people here are really grappling to survive,” says William Lagu. “It is imperative that, following this assessment, we come back as soon as possible to deliver much needed humanitarian assistance.”

IOM’s Core Pipeline andthe Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Emergency Preparedness and Response (WASH-EPnR) operations are funded by the EU’s European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO),the UK Government’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).