Worst flooding in Bentiu in 60 years washes away food and homes

European Union’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) and UNICEF joining hands to treat malnourished children

By Sebastian Rich
wading in flood water
UNICEF South Sudan/Rich
26 November 2021

These photos illustrate the impact of the worst flooding in 60-years in Bentiu and the larger Unity State, that since February has washed away harvests, cattle and left villages under water. 

This series of images was put together by me, Sebastian Rich, as part of the coverage in showing the level of life-saving need in South Sudan, and the importance of UNICEF and its partners' response in preventing and treating malnutrition supported by a three year-year long ECHO donation.

Through the support of the European Union’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), UNICEF and partners have been able to reach tens of thousands of women and children over a period of six months from March to September 2021 in South Sudan alone to prevent malnutrition, while providing life-saving treatment for those who have already become severely malnourished.  It is part of a 48 million EURO donation to UNICEF from ECHO to support South Sudan, in addition to Ethiopia and Somalia.

In the last two decades, these three countries have witnessed repeated droughts, floods, outbreaks of disease and instability.

The aim is to reach 3.1 million severely malnourished children in the three countries over three years while building the capacity of systems to better withstand future crises. 

Cattle are now forced to find food wherever they can, getting stranded and lost in the deep water and often perish.
UNICEF South Sudan/Rich
Cattle are now forced to find food wherever they can, getting stranded and lost in the deep water and often perish.
As night falls the never-ending task of getting their entire possessions to higher ground never ends.
UNICEF South Sudan/Rich
As night falls the never-ending task of getting their entire possessions to higher ground never ends.
The task of rescuing what is left of your house is just heartbreaking.
UNICEF South Sudan/Rich
The task of rescuing what is left of your house is just heartbreaking.
Many have made makeshift rafts to transport what is left of their homes.
UNICEF South Sudan/Rich
Many have made makeshift rafts to transport what is left of their homes.
A family tows items and animals on a raft
UNICEF South Sudan/Rich
This family have pulled their entire household possessions and what’s left of their livestock twenty kilometers to get to higher ground.
A mother holds her daughter on her lap
UNICEF South Sudan/Rich
I first met Nyaruon Mabil-Zour at a UNICEF supported hospital in Bentiu where her daughter Nyajal (18 months) was successfully treated for malnutrition.
Animals at the edge of a body of water
UNICEF South Sudan/Rich
In one of the stranded villages I visited by canoe in a stretch of ground of no more than fifty meters I counted ten dead goats and two dead cows. There is just no food left to feed them.
Boats of people
UNICEF South Sudan/Rich
An entire community that has never used water transport have had to adopt to very quickly to the challenges of canoe manufacturing and navigating sometimes treacherous floodwaters.
Two young women working with shovels
UNICEF South Sudan/Rich
Nyaruon Mabil-Zour herself and her young family themselves displaced by the devastating floods helps maintain dykes to prevent further flooding.
A group of people work at the edge of water
UNICEF South Sudan/Rich
Nyaruon Mabil-Zour and the displaced community try the best they can to maintain the fragile dykes that hold back the flood water.
People gather around temporary shelters
UNICEF South Sudan/Rich
Entire families displaced from their village by the flooding only to find themselves cut off once again with the water rising.

As a photojournalist and humanitarian photographer I have been coming to South Sudan since independence in 2011 and have been witness to a brutal civil war and all that war brings with it.

Now with unprecedented flooding the world’s newest nation is beleaguered with so much more sadness and seemingly overwhelming challenges.

But I have witnessed individuals and entire communities coming together to face head on a new disaster. I have also witnessed UNICEF and its partners make a huge positive impact on the lives of those so terribly effected by the terrible flooding.