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South Sudan: MSF teams reaching people trapped by “catastrophic flooding”

01 Oct 21

South Sudan: MSF teams reaching people trapped by “catastrophic flooding”

Heavy rains have caused widespread flooding in South Sudan this year, with more than 400,000 people already affected according to the United Nations. Meanwhile, the rainy season continues.

Many of the hardest-hit communities are in South Sudan's Jonglei State, where wetlands and tributaries of the White Nile overflowed as seasonal rains arrived earlier than usual.

In the villages of Haat and Pakur, the floods have already forced around 6,000 people to flee their homes since May.

Evacuated

On 8 August, the floodwaters destroyed a small MSF clinic and many homes in Haat. MSF evacuated its staff to Old Fangak, four hours away by speedboat, before returning to the area to carry out mobile clinics.

"In the region around Haat, we saw catastrophic flooding," says Emilie Allaire, who leads the medical team in Old Fangak.

"The centre of the community was flooded several feet deep, forcing all the local people onto the last pieces of land that were not flooded."

Everything in the affected communities was destroyed, Allaire says. People are staying in huts they have made from sticks and sometimes plastic sheeting. There are no toilets and no clean drinking water available.

"We went island to island to provide general medical consultations for children and adults," says Allaire.

The mobile clinic team carried out 474 medical consultations from 29 August to 1 September, and 651 more from 17 to 21 September.

out-patient department in Batil refugee camp

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Medical needs

The medical needs are extremely high when compared to the weeks before the flooding.

The most common conditions include non-bloody diarrhoea, upper respiratory tract infections, urinary tract infections, malaria and malnutrition.

Aerial view of a vast flooded area in Fangak County – local houses can be seen surrounded by water Caption
Aerial view of a vast flooded area in Fangak County – local houses can be seen surrounded by water.
A displaced family using blankets and plastic sheeting to build a shelter on a grass raft Caption
A displaced family using blankets and plastic sheeting to build a shelter on a grass raft.

Canoes are the main means of transportation during the flooding, but it can take several days to reach a medical facility this way.

At one mobile clinic, our team diagnosed Nyadak Kulang with severe malaria. As she was about seven months pregnant she required more specialised care. The decision was made to take her the four hours by speedboat to the MSF hospital in Old Fangak.

Once receiving treatment, Nyadak Kulang’s condition started to improve.

"We didn't have clean water," she says.

"People around me on the island were sick. They were suffering, and the symptoms we saw were diarrhoea and vomiting."

Malnutrition

Food scarcity is also a widespread concern.

Most local people are subsistence farmers, but the recurring flooding has made agriculture impossible. Their cattle either drowned or are dying of hunger because the grass they feed on is covered by water. Instead, people report surviving on fish and water lilies.

Displacedpeople living in Roupgak wait for a medical consultation with an MSF mobile team Caption
Displaced people living in Roupgak wait for a medical consultation with an MSF mobile team.

MSF is treating moderately and severely malnourished children with therapeutic food, and providing other children and adults with emergency food rations. At the same time, we are continuing specific mobile clinics for children under five years old and pregnant women, while administering vaccinations for measles, tetanus and diphtheria.

Our teams have also distributed blankets, insecticide-treated mosquito nets, plastic sheeting, cooking utensils and other essential supplies.

However, as the flooding continues, our staff have warned that the health of displaced people is likely to deteriorate further without adequate assistance.

"The medical service, though we are providing it, is not enough," says Paul Gany Hoth, MSF clinical outreach officer.

"They are in the rain in an open space. They need shelters, they need food, they need everything."

MSF in South Sudan

In July 2011, South Sudan became the world’s newest country after gaining independence from Sudan. The peace deal that led to the split also ended Africa’s longest running civil war.

But in December 2013, South Sudan was plunged back into chaos as civil war erupted amid a power struggle between the president and his deputy.

The conflict has forced millions of people from their homes and left many without access to basic necessities, such as food, water and healthcare. Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) works in hospitals and clinics throughout South Sudan, where we run some of our biggest programmes worldwide.