Double trouble

Conflict and floods are pushing people to their limits

Helene Sandbu Ryeng
children on a makeshift raft
23 September 2020

Pibor,  23 September 2020 – Not one, not two, but four times has Nyachimach and her family been displaced since June 2020. The rough situation has started taking it's toll on her youngest children. Koli (4 years) has had a fever and a cough for over a month now and her last born Gol (4 months) has followed suit. This is why they are seated in the shaded waiting area made out of tarpaulins in one out of two makeshift health centres in Pibor. 

The UNICEF supported health centre is made out of tents and tarpaulins and standing on what is still dry land as the water continue to rise on a daily basis. The clinic building was flooded a few weeks back when the Pibor river started overflowing into the surrounding banks. Every day, new pieces of land, houses and roads are swallowed by water from the river.

A family seated on a tarpaulin
Nyachimach with her daughter Koli (to the right) and Gol in the baby carrier on the back

Bullets were the reason Nyachimach, her husband and eight children fled the first time. "We went from Manyabol to Gumuruk to save our lives," Nyachimach says. Hundreds of people were wounded in the intercommunal clashes and many were killed. "Then Gumuruk was attacked, and we had to flee again." The family of 10 decided to seek shelter in Pibor where they had extended family, but shortly after arriving the flood forced them out of the shelter. "We have moved twice in Pibor due to the flooding," Nyachimach explains.

A girl looking at the camera while being screened for malnutrition
Koli (4 years) has tested positive for malaria and is now being screened for malnutrition. The measuring tape shows red and she is referred to the nutrition centre close by.

Koli is quiet while sitting next to her mother. "She doesn't have much energy," Nyachimach explains. They left everything when they fled the first time and due to the flood it has been difficult to cover their basic needs such as food and water. "I worry a lot. It is not a good feeling when you can't provide for your children."

At the UNICEF supported health centre, a test confirms that the four-year-old is suffering from malaria and she is given artemisinin as treatment. The family is also given a mosquito net in order to protect themselves from the mosquitoes causing the malaria infections. Koli is also quickly screened for malnutrition. The measurement tape comes back red indicating severe acute malnutrition and she is referred to the UNICEF supported nutrition centre close by, also a tented structure as the outpatient therapeutic centre is flooded.

A family of mother and two daughters is looking at the camera
Mama Maze with her two children Kaka and Katalin at the makeshift nutrition centre in Pibor

Mama Maze is watching while Koli is being examined at the nutrition centre. She is there with her daughters Kaka (36 months) and Katalin (4 years). Kaka has been having diarrhoea, coughing and high fever the last month. She has watched her daughter getting thinner by the day and she is worried about her life. 

The family of five is from Kongor. When fighting broke out they fled by foot to Pibor, a trip which took days. "There is at least no fighting here but life is difficult. There is not much food available and I have no money," Mama Maze explains. The first shelter they lived in after arriving in Pibor is flooded and they now live next to the airstrip which will hopefully be safe from the flood water. Last year's flood reached all the way to the airstrip but the forecast indicates that the 2020 floods will not reach the same levels.

A girl being screened for malnutrition
Katalin is being screened for malnutrition
A girl is being screened for malnutrition
Kaka is being screened for malnutrition at the makeshift nutrition centre in Pibor

While Mama Maze was mostly worried about Kaka, the nutrition workers could immediately see that also Katalin is in trouble. The screening of Kaka shows she is suffering from moderate acute malnutrition, while Katalin is severely malnourished. They were both enrolled in the UNICEF supported nutrition programme operated by Joint Aid Managament (JAM) and under normal condition the children should bounce back within six to eight weeks.

a mother breastfeeding her child
Nyachimach is breastfeeding Gol at the nutrition centre in Pibor. Also Nyachimach was assessed to suffer from acute malnutrition and was enrolled in the UNICEF supported nutrition programme as she is still breastfeeding.

Some 600,000 people in South Sudan are affected by the floods this year with Jonglei state, where Pibor is situated, is one of the areas hardest hit. Jonglei is also where intercommunal violence has flared up since February 2020, killing, wounding and displacing families. Many of the families who have sought refuge from the bullets in other parts of Jonglei, are displaced multiple times due to reoccuring fighting and now flooding.

UNICEF and partners are responding to the double crisis by providing safe drinking water through dissemination of water purification powder and buckets to do the purification process. Communal latrines are constructed to support the displaced and the host community and hygiene items are disseminated. UNICEF has made efforts to ensure continuation of essential health and nutrition services through negotiating new land where temporary clinics can be set up, and provided tents and supplies. Furthermore, UNICEF and partners have provided family tracing and reunification services to families separated by bullets and water.

UNICEF South Sudan would like to thank the government of Belgium, Canada, Germany and Sweden for the generous contributions to our humanitarian appeal, which allows us to respond quickly to emerging needs. A big thank you to USAID which is funding essential parts of the WASH core pipeline, allowing a rapid WASH response. Also, a big thank you to UKAid for their donations for malaria treatment and prevention through the HARISS programme and to the Government of the Czech Republic for their generous contribution to the health and nutrition programme.