South Sudan is in the midst of the first famine declared in the world since 2011. Brought on as a result of conflict and drought, more than 100,000 people face starvation and a further one million are at risk. While the rainy season should provide the opportunity for farmers to plant crops for the coming year, in South Sudan it brings a host of humanitarian challenges for both aid workers and the population.
No more access
The rainy season is expected to start in May and last until October. While more than 7 million South Sudanese require lifesaving assistance, including 40% of the population who are in need of urgent food, the rainy season will make it harder for aid workers to provide help and for the population to reach aid centres.
With only a couple of kilometres of paved roads, travelling in South Sudan is extremely challenging and time-consuming. Even in the dry season, a 500 km trip takes around a week to complete.
Heavy rainfalls render most roads and airstrips impassable, leaving two thirds of the country unreachable. As a result, access to vulnerable people will be impeded and entire communities will be cut off of the rest of the country, including those most affected by the food crisis. Humanitarian organizations are currently racing to stockpile food in these communities before the rainy season begins.
Not only will humanitarian workers struggle to reach the population, many South Sudanese themselves will have to walk for hours in the mud before finding aid facilities.
Waterborne disease – the perfect storm
The rainy season also provides a fertile ground for the spread of waterborne diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea.
Clean water as well as good sanitation are essential to prevent the outbreak of diseases. Nearly 5 million South Sudanese do not have access to clean water. Sanitation facilities are almost non existent forcing 74% of the population to defecate in the open. A cholera outbreak was declared earlier this year, for the third time in a row.
The lack of sanitation and health facilities, coupled with the flooding, has proven to be deadly for many South Sudanese in previous rainy seasons, especially in overcrowded displaced persons’ camps and urban centres. Flooding indeed further increases the risk of contamination of water sources and consequently diseases, while overcrowded areas facilitate their transmission.
How the ICRC is responding
Although the outlook in South Sudan is bleak, support for the people of South Sudan does exist. iguacu’s recommended charity the ICRC has been present in South Sudan since 1986 and is well-prepared to continue providing critical help during the rainy season.
The ICRC has a great capacity to reach out to the population. During the dry season, the ICRC relies on airdrops to distribute help in remote areas. In March, the ICRC distributed food to over 20,000 people in Jonglei state. With the rainy season rending airstrips unusable, the ICRC will dispatch its helicopters and hence pursue their vital relief work nationwide.
In addition to their emergency response to the food crisis, the ICRC focuses on longer-term strategies to eradicate hunger in South Sudan. Ahead of the rainy season, the ICRC distributed seeds and tools to some 200,000 South Sudanese throughout the country, allowing them to grow and plant their crops for the new season.
The ICRC also works all year long to improve access to safe-drinking water and healthcare. In 2016, the ICRC restored 19 water facilities and conducted more than 140,000 outpatient consultations.
With the acute food crisis and the cholera epidemic, the rainy season will certainly be deadlier than in years before. As soon as July this year, more than 5 million South Sudanese are expected to be suffering from food insecurity.
On a positive note, violence should decrease as the rainy season makes it harder for armed groups to move. In the meantime, the ICRC will continue in all conditions to support those in great need.