Examining the Unfolding Crisis: Climate Change and its Devastating Consequences in South Sudan

The climate change crisis is a real one that all countries around the globe should consider alarming and make active contributions to saving the planet as a whole. Climate change is a growing global concern with significant repercussions for all nations, but especially for weaker ones like South Sudan. South Sudan, being one of the youngest countries, presents a unique mix of issues that are worsened by climate change. South Sudan is a landlocked nation in east-central Africa with an approximate population of 11.2 million people. In a nation that has seen decades of conflict and suffering, the persistent effects of climate change have generated bouts of flooding that have been extremely intense. South Sudan has just seen its worst flooding in over 60 years. Droughts and flooding driven by climate change are particularly dangerous for South Sudan. The peace and security in South Sudan are indirectly impacted by both long-term climate change, such as the steady rise in temperatures, and short-term extreme climate events, such as increasing flooding.

The Impact of Climate Change on South Sudan

 

Flooding and its Consequences

Climate change has led to an increase in extreme weather events, such as floods, in South Sudan. According to a UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) report, floods affect approximately one million South Sudanese each year. These floods have not only destroyed homes and livelihoods but have also displaced thousands of people, exacerbating an already precarious situation. South Sudan is increasingly suffering from the impact of climate change, which is one of the major drivers of the humanitarian crisis currently affecting approx. 80% of the population, and we have seen it worsen in the last three years. Floods have shifted from rainfall to the expansion of rivers and busting the banks, which has inundated communities, villages, and facilities. Four years of flooding have submerged over two-thirds of the country, with Jonglei, Northern Bahr El Ghazal, Upper Nile, Unity, Warrap, Western Equatoria, and Lakes States of South Sudan, as well as the Abyei Special Administrative Area, all experiencing significant flooding in recent months. The Nile River and its tributaries frequently flood at certain times of the year, but the recent flooding is unusual. The rainy season, according to locals, has started earlier and is continuing longer. Even the rain has been coming down harder than it has in the past. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), flooding in South Sudan affected the lives of over 900,000 people in nine states and the southern portion of the Abyei Administrative Area.

South Sudan has experienced severe flooding over the past 60 years due to climate change. The flooding has become increasingly intense as a result of both higher average temperatures and more extreme climate events. On average, South Sudan’s temperatures have risen by 0.4 degrees Celsius per decade in the last 30 years, from 25 to 35 degrees Celsius. The threat of more flooding persists as temperatures are predicted to continue to rise by 1 to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2060.

The flood situation is getting worse in 2023, putting more people at risk of losing their homes, livestock, and access to essential resources. The situation is particularly dire in areas like Fangak, where floods have submerged fields, making it impossible to cultivate crops.

 

Food security and malnutrition

The increased frequency and severity of floods and droughts in South Sudan have disrupted the country’s agricultural cycle, leading to widespread food insecurity. In South Sudan, around 90% of the land is cultivable, but only about 5% of it is used for crop agriculture. For people living in the regions affected by climate change, the floods and droughts are having a devastating impact on their livelihoods. Severe floods can destroy crops and livestock, while droughts can offset the conditions necessary for successful farming. Farmers are becoming increasingly vulnerable to changes in rainfall patterns, meaning that their food security is under threat. In 2021, roughly 7.2 million people in South Sudan will suffer starvation. The COVID-19 epidemic, continuous conflicts, rising prices, and restricted access to humanitarian aid are just a few of the causes that have contributed to this worrisome figure’s 50% growth over the past ten years. Notably, the increasing frequency and severity of climate shocks appear to combine with other stressors, aggravating the situation and increasing the danger of famine.

Migration and displacement

Climate change has forced millions of people in Africa to migrate, both within their countries and across borders. Floods in South Sudan affect a large number of people each year, ranging from 750,000 to over one million. These floods forced roughly half of the affected population to flee their homes and seek refuge on higher ground. The displacement of people in South Sudan has resulted in homelessness, particularly among vulnerable groups such as the elderly, children, and women. These people are forced to live in harsh conditions, sleeping without shelter or protection, leaving them vulnerable to mosquitoes and other disease-carrying vectors. Unfortunately, some of the displaced people have died as a result of water-borne and climate-related illnesses such as malaria, typhoid, and cholera.

Migration has resulted in a concentration of people in specific areas, resulting in overcrowding. This influx of migrants has also heightened tensions among the various communities that live in those areas. However, migration is not always a realistic option for those affected by climate change. In some situations, people have been forced to remain in flood-prone locations, endangering their lives and livelihoods.

UNHCR’s Initiatives

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has launched a number of initiatives to assist South Sudan in dealing with the effects of climate change, including:

  • Supporting the construction of drainage systems and other flood-resilient infrastructure in Unity State’s northeast.
  • Establishing dike care maintenance committees, supplying training and tools to strengthen flood defences, and managing severe floods in Old Fangak.
  • Collaborating closely on peace initiatives with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to stop further herdsman-farmer conflict.
  • Supplying flood-tolerant seeds and instructions to those who will be impacted in flooded areas.
  • Distributing seed varieties that mature quickly and are resistant to drought and encouraging the installation of irrigation systems for drought-stricken areas.

Reforestation efforts are critical in combating the effects of climate change. UNHCR has established tree nurseries in a number of areas, including Jamjang, Maban, and Yambio, to produce and distribute seedlings. These efforts help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also promoting sustainable land management practises.

UNHCR has launched projects to promote clean energy alternatives in order to reduce reliance on firewood and charcoal, which contribute to deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions. High-efficiency cooking stoves, for example, have been manufactured and distributed to Maban refugees, and a pilot project has been launched in which refugee women and their host communities convert agricultural waste into clean-burning briquettes.

Criticism of UNHRC’s Initiatives

While the UNHCR has undertaken initiatives to assist South Sudan in addressing the effects of climate change, there are some points of criticism that can be raised. Firstly, the initiatives primarily focus on short-term solutions, such as providing flood-tolerant seeds and distributing irrigation systems, without adequately addressing the long-term challenges posed by climate change.

Additionally, there may be a need for greater coordination and collaboration between different stakeholders to ensure the effectiveness and sustainability of these initiatives. Furthermore, the initiatives could benefit from increased community engagement and participation to ensure that local perspectives and knowledge are incorporated into the decision-making processes.

 

Ensuring water security and building resilience

Water security is a critical component of South Sudan’s climate change response. Rising from the Depths: “Water Security and Fragility in South Sudan” a World Bank report, identifies five key priorities for the country’s long-term climate resilience:

  1. Enhancing institutional and policy frameworks to better direct and ensure the sustainability of investments in the water sector.
  2. Utilizing environmentally friendly service delivery methods and climate-resistant solutions to address the water supply and sanitation crisis.
  3. Improving early warning systems and disaster risk preparation to stop flood losses and financial harm.
  4. Utilizing the productive potential of water by making investments in domestic fish production, wetland restoration, and agriculture that can withstand floods.
  5. Creating a wide range of water management infrastructure solutions while paying close attention to how investments will affect society and the environment.

 

Climate change poses a serious threat to South Sudan, affecting millions of people while also exacerbating existing vulnerabilities. It is vital that the global community, national governments, and local actors work together to confront the challenges of climate change. This requires the implementation of comprehensive measures such as policy reforms, institutional improvements, infrastructure investments, and community-led initiatives. South Sudan can strengthen its resilience and pave the way for a more sustainable future for its people by implementing these strategies.

Furthermore, promoting climate education and awareness, promoting sustainable resource management, and participating in international partnerships can all help South Sudan respond more effectively to the climate crisis. South Sudan’s climate change response should also prioritize the protection of vulnerable groups, such as women, children, and the elderly, who are disproportionately impacted. Ensuring their active participation in decision-making processes and providing targeted support can boost community resilience. Furthermore, sustainable land management practices, reforestation efforts, and investments in renewable energy can help to mitigate the effects of climate change. International cooperation and financial support are critical for South Sudan to effectively implement these initiatives and build a sustainable future that protects both its people and the environment for future generations.

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