South Sudan: Flooding deepens a humanitarian crisis in Pibor area

South Sudan. The Greater Pibor Administrative Area. Lukurunyang payam. September 7, 2020. A young woman sitting in front of her shelter in Lukurunyang after heavy rainfall destroyed her crops. An MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières) mobile clinic brings life-saving medical care to Lukurunyarg after the flooding made the roads impassable.
South Sudan 2020 © Tetiana Gaviak/MSF
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NEW YORK/JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN, September 22, 2020—Severe flooding is displacing thousands of people around Pibor, South Sudan, worsening an already dire humanitarian crisis caused by conflict this year, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today, urging other aid organizations to provide food, relief items, shelter, water and medical services in the region.

Intercommunal conflict caused large-scale displacement and loss of life in the Greater Pibor Administrative Area in the first half of 2020, leaving people without many resources to cope with another disaster. After the conflict stabilized, MSF relaunched an emergency intervention in August, opening a clinic in Pibor. The community also experienced massive flooding last year, and the clinic is located in the only place in Pibor town that did not flood then.

Heavy floods threaten the lives of thousands of people in Greater Pibor
A woman standing in front of her flooded house in Lanyeri payam.
South Sudan 2020 © Tetiana Gaviak/MSF

Today, however, the Pibor River has swelled to make parts of the town inaccessible and is threatening the clinic. Many neighborhoods cannot be reached by foot, and a local ferry is too expensive for many who live in the area. A mobile MSF team is providing medical care in hard-to-reach areas.

"Our focus is now on malaria, measles and flooding," said Josh Rosenstein, MSF deputy head of mission. "Today we are reaching out to the community through our daily mobile clinics, treating the most severe illnesses. We're also implementing our flood contingency plan, which includes building additional flood defenses around the clinic to ensure we can continue to provide medical services, as the water level is rising at an alarming speed."

Heavy floods threaten the lives of thousands of people in Greater Pibor
An MSF mobile clinic brings life-saving medical care to Lukurunyarg after flooding made the roads impassable.
South Sudan 2020 © Tetiana Gaviak/MSF

Swollen rivers are continuing to flood communities in the Greater Pibor Administrative Area and the Greater Upper Nile region, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and leaving many without food or clean water. People are exposed to malaria, waterborne diseases and snakebites as floodwaters inundate their homes and farms. 

Heavy seasonal rainfall has led to high river levels and flooding in neighboring countries as well, including Ethiopia and Sudan, causing displacement, affecting food supplies and creating additional health needs. In Pibor, the challenges are continuing to grow.

Heavy floods threaten the lives of thousands of people in Greater Pibor
A flooded house in Lanyeri payam.
South Sudan 2020 © Tetiana Gaviak/MSF
Heavy floods threaten the lives of thousands of people in Greater Pibor
South Sudan 2020 © Tetiana Gaviak/MSF

"I can't believe what my eyes have seen in Pibor—so much destruction of infrastructure and resources," said Simon Peter Olweny, MSF's water and sanitation coordinator in Pibor. "There is a lack of public toilets in the town. In our clinic, we have only two toilets and no space to build more to meet a minimum requirement for hundreds of patients we treat each day. These conditions are a breeding ground for diseases."

Heavy floods threaten the lives of thousands of people in Greater Pibor
MSF staff walking through mud in Pibor town.
South Sudan 2020 © Tetiana Gaviak/MSF

Since July, MSF has provided clean water, distributed 7,252 mosquito nets, treated 1,493 children under five with malaria and treated 79 patients with measles in Pibor.

MSF has worked in South Sudan since 1983, providing medical care in many parts of the country where access to health care and other humanitarian services is limited. MSF currently works in 15 locations throughout South Sudan.