South Sudan

Food barren Pibor prepares for an early and severe rainy season

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PIBOR, 11 March 2021 - “They are anxious about the coming rains, forecasted to be early this April and go late through November. They are left with nothing after being washed out of their homes during last year’s floods.” Bosco, a UNICEF Nutrition Officer, looks concerned as he shares the news from community meetings. “They built berms and had small gardens and some food, but the water destroyed it all.” When people do migrate back to their homes, the mud walls of their houses have washed down, livestock has moved out of the area and crops have been diminished. However, life must continue. As communities bide time on seasonal fish and wild tree fruits, UNICEF is helping the most vulnerable still struggling with the aftermath of the 2020 floods while preparing for the next rainy season.

The numbers are overwhelming: 60 per cent of the people in South Sudan are expected to face a food crisis, or worse, through July 2021, according to a recent food security assessment. Jonglei State and the Greater Pibor Administrative Area are expected to be hit the hardest. These areas have also experienced extreme flooding the past two years, displacing over 495,000 people. Insecurity, poor road accessibility and COVID-19 restrictions are further intensifying the condition.

To mitigate deadly outcomes, UNICEF is investing in flood resilience by developing a multisector, early preparedness and emergency response plan and supporting local partners for a coordinated and increased response on the ground.

“During the floods last year, displaced people moved to any ground raised out of the water. UNICEF moved the only health facility, managed by Live Well, into temporary tents right alongside those communities and designated eight mobile outreach teams through partner organizations like JAM and Plan International, in order to sustain activities. The teams were treating malnutrition, providing health services and water, sanitation and hygiene access,” reports Bosco Cirakol.

Last year’s floods are one of the main contributors to this year’s food and nutrition crisis. Severe floods cause displacement, food insecurity and water borne diseases which further leads to severe acute malnutrition. It can cause death if not treated in time, especially in the youngest children. In the Pibor Administrative Area, cases of severe acute malnutrition have tripled in the past few months. “In February, UNICEF and partners assessed the nutrition situation of children in the communities that are still displaced. Their situation remains critical.

We are responding to their needs by increasing the number of nutrition centres to treat malnourished children.” Bosco further explains: “Also, families are being trained to screen their children for malnutrition by measuring their upper arm circumference.” Meanwhile, the water, sanitation and hygiene partners are looking to rehabilitate boreholes to ensure access to clean water.

Currently, the dry season is apparent by the brown, barren trees and dust in the air so thick that you can taste it. Yet, the River Nile and the surrounding rivers refuse to drain back into their banks, leaving families displaced as three counties in Jonglei State are still flooded.

“This year we are better prepared for the upcoming, early flooding period. We have mapped where extra resources and services are needed based on the 400,000 people displaced in Jonglei State during the last floods,” says Bosco.

UNICEF and partners are listening to the needs of the communities and putting their resources together. Teams have already stocked up on main supplies like RUTF (ready-to-use therapeutic food) and antibiotics while other items like mosquito nets, buckets and soap are on the way. Bosco confirms, “We learned from the past, we know what to expect and how to prepare with the resources we have.”

UNICEF can maintain services due to contributions to its nutrition programme from Canada, ECHO, the EU, the Republic of China, UK Aid and USAID. Support for the health program comes from Canada, Czech Republic, GAVI, Germany, Italy, Kuwait, Slovakia, Sweden, and UK Aid. Also, UNICEF has partnered with the World Bank to increase access to quality health services in Upper Nile and Jonglei, the latter where Pibor is located. A special thank you goes out to all the governments that are funding UNICEF's Humanitarian Action for Children (HAC), allowing us to respond timely to crises.