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Sunday, December 5, 2021

Rising flood waters surround aid camp in South Sudan putting tens of thousands at risk

A displaced persons camp with the same population as Oxford is surrounded on all sides by rising flood waters.

Aid workers fear that the mud dikes could soon break, leaving tens of thousands of children in 1.5m deep murky water.

At the start of the year, the situation was already desperate for the 100,000 people living in rows upon rows of scrappy NGO tents in the Bentiu IDP camp in South Sudan. But when the largest floods came in six decades, it became unbearable.

Aid workers estimate the camp’s population swelled by another 30,000 people fleeing the waterlogged land all around. Because the extreme floods have cut off the local sewage plant, only one in ten of the toilets on the camp now works and clean water supplies are well below emergency levels.

“We are effectively an island protected by these dikes,” said Jacob Goldberg, medical emergency manager at Doctors without Borders (MSF), told The Telegraph.

“The dikes are three metres high. The water is now 1.5 above the level of the ground inside the camp. It’s an extremely worrying situation. The water level is very slowly rising by two to three centimetres a day,” Mr Goldberg.

“People are now drinking the stagnant water, which poses an enormous health threat.”

A dike was already breached near the camp earlier in November, and the risk of those around the camp breaking is “huge”, according to MSF.

The aid agency also added that food was a huge problem. Rations from the World Food Program were cut to 50 per cent of the needed amount in April 2021 because of funding cuts. These do not cover the thousands of new arrivals.

Across South Sudan, an estimated 780,000 people have been hit hard by the floods. The UN has blamed three years of extreme flooding squarely on climate change.

“The country is on the front line of the climate emergency, where the people are the collateral damage of a battle they did not pick,” Arafat Jamal, UNHCR representative in South Sudan, said last month.

A decade after South Sudan gained independence following a devastating war; it faces the threat of conflict, climate change and Covid-19. Much of the population depends on international food aid and aid agencies for the most basic of services.

South Sudan produces about 3.5bn barrels of oil a year. However, much of this money is swallowed up by corruption before it gets anywhere near ordinary citizens.

The UK, once one of the top donors to South Sudan, cut its aid funding to the country from £135m in 2020 by 50 per cent to £68m this year. 

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