MACH SAMUEL/FILIP ANDERSSON
Engineering troops serving with the UN Mission in South Sudan are engaged in an ongoing battle against flooding caused by broken dykes in Bor, in Jonglei, aggravated by heavy downpours. Across the state, primarily in Bor South and Twic East, some 135,000 people are believed to be displaced.
Swift action by peacekeepers joined by youth of the local Bor community, mobilized by Jonglei’s Secretary General Mabior Atem Mabior, saved the main market and Jonglei’s only hospital from being submerged. In a joint effort, a temporary drainage system was created to lead water from the overflowing White Nile River away from critical roads and parts of town.
“If this dyke had not been repaired quickly, the situation would have been a lot worse,” says Mabior Thieka Abraham, who had to leave his house as water levels rose dangerously.
Currently staying with relatives in Koingbu, a suburb, Mr. Abraham had hoped to be able to reclaim his home after the initial repair work was done, but so far the breaking of other portions of the vital dyke have prevented him from doing so.
While the Marol Market is still under some threat due to water levels rising when damages occur to different parts of the 7 km-long-dyke, originally constructed by the peacekeeping mission in 2014, the overall situation has improved over the last week. Previously closed shops have been able to re-open, electricity, shut down for several days, is back on, critical roads are once again passable, and the airport is no longer closed off.
“Drains around the entire market are definitely still required, though,” says Deborah Schein, head of the peacekeeping mission’s field office in Bor, adding that the market is the lifeline of the local population and that the dyke is the only barrier preventing Bor from being flooded if water levels rise significantly.
“The most durable solution to protect this low-lying town, next to the huge Sudd swamplands, would be to construct a permanent drainage system,” Ms. Schein adds.
Some families forced to leave their houses have crossed the river to temporarily stay in Mingamam, a settlement in neighbouring Lakes State, home to more than 100,000 internally displaced people, most of whom fled from violence in Bor South and Twic East in 2013. Others have been seeking shelter in schools and churches, while some have built makeshift boats to save their possessions as they move to higher ground.
While Bor and Panyagoor have stolen the unwanted flooding limelight, flash floods resulting in the displacement of thousands of people have also plagued several other parts of the greater Jonglei region, including Ayod, Duk and Pochalla. Concerns also remain that flood water will flow from the Ethiopian highlands to Akobo and the Greater Pibor Administrative Area. The need for humanitarian assistance in affected locations is dire.
The battle to guarantee a flood-free Bor town may be far from over, but residents, including Achiek Mabior, appreciate the efforts that have been made so far by the engineering troops of the peacekeeping mission.
“We asked them [UNMISS] to repair the dyke and they responded swiftly and without hesitation. The truth is that they have saved homes, farms and livestock”.