On a piece of land surrounded by floods in South Sudan, families drink and bathe from the waters that washed away the latrines and continue to rise.
Around 1 million people in the country have been displaced or isolated for months by the worst flood in memory, with the intense rainy season being a sign of climate change. The waters began to rise in June, washing away crops, flooding roads and worsening hunger and disease in the young nation struggling to recover from civil war. Now hunger is a threat.
On a recent Associated Press visit to the Old Fangak area of Jonglei State, parents spoke of walking for hours in chest-deep water to find food and medical care as malaria and diarrheal diseases spread.
Regina Nyakol Piny, a mother of nine, now lives in an elementary school in Wangchot village after her house was flooded.
“We do not have food here, we depend only on the humanitarian agencies of the UN or on collecting firewood and selling it,” he said. “My children get sick from the flood and there is no medical service in this place.”
He said he eagerly awaits peace to return to the country, believing that medical services will continue “that will be enough for us.”
One of his nieces, Nyankun Dhoal, gave birth to her seventh child in a world of water in November.
“I feel very tired and my body feels very weak,” she said. One of her breasts was swollen and her baby had a rash. She wants food and plastic sheeting so she and her family can stay dry.
The mud sucks at people’s feet as they engage in daily struggles to contain the waters and find something to eat.
Nyaduoth Kun, a mother of five, said the floods destroyed her family’s crops and life has been a struggle for months, with people selling their precious livestock to buy food that is never enough.
The family eats only two meals a day and adults often go to bed on an empty stomach, he said. They have started collecting water lilies and wild fruits for food.
He said he had little knowledge of the coronavirus pandemic raging in other parts of the world and spreading largely undetected in resource-poor South Sudan. “There are many diseases living among us, so we cannot find out if it is coronavirus or not,” he said.
Instead, their fear is that the makeshift water dam around their home could collapse at any moment, flooding young children.
Wangchot village chief James Diang made the decision at the beginning of the floods to send severely affected children to the city center after several drowned “and everything was quickly destroyed.”
Now the cattle are dying, he said, and the survivors have been transported to drier areas.
The remaining residents eat tree leaves and sometimes fish to survive, he said. Fever and joint pain are widespread.
When there is no canoe to transport people during times of storm surge, “our children die at our hands because we are defenseless,” he said.
He hopes, like everyone else, for sustainable peace and an improved dam so the community can have enough dry land to plant.
The people of South Sudan trusted President Salva Kiir and former leader of the armed opposition Riek Machar to lead this transitional period, “but now they are failing us,” said Acting Deputy Director of the government in the area, Kueth Gach Monydhot. . “We have no hope, we lost confidence in them.”
The situation in Fangak County remains volatile, with almost all of its more than 60 towns affected by the floods and “no response from the government,” he said. “Do you think they will make plans for other people when they have failed to implement the peace agreement?”
At the clinic in Old Fangak run by the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, Nyalual Chol said that the dam he tried to build against the flooding collapsed and his house also quickly collapsed.
She had been home alone with her four children. As with many families, her husband was on duty in another part of the country as a soldier.
She arrived at the clinic by canoe after an hour’s journey, seeking help for her sick son. There he also received a ration of food.
The coordinator of the Médecins Sans Frontières project in Old Fangak, Dorothy I. Esonwune, recalled the sight of newly displaced people sheltering under trees without mats, blankets or mosquito nets.
Meanwhile, the charity’s mobile clinics were suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, further complicating efforts to reach sick people who were stranded by the floods.
“The water keeps rising and the levees keep breaking and there are still displaced people, but they don’t have the main needs,” he said, describing several people often crammed into a single shelter.
Now the international community has sounded the alarm about a possible famine in another part of Jonglei state affected by floods.
The representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in South Sudan, Meshak Malo, has called on the parties that signed the country’s peace agreement to cease the violence and guarantee safe humanitarian access to prevent the terrible situation turns into a full-blown catastrophe.
The new report of probable famine is a revelation and a signal to the government, which has not endorsed its findings, said the president of the National Statistics Office, Isaiah Chol Aruai.
“There is no way for the government to ignore or downplay an emergency when it really is discovered to be an emergency,” he said.