South Sudan: Battle to repair dyke after huge swaths of farmland submerged by two years of flooding

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South Sudan: Battle to repair dyke after huge swaths of farmland submerged by two years of flooding


It is often said that water is a blessing in South Sudan, but the people who live in this impoverished nation have good reason to reconsider an indisputable truth.

Two years of unprecedented flooding changed the look of the country, with thousands of miles of rich farmland now underwater.

In the counties surrounding Bor town in Jonglei state, some 200,000 people were forced to seek higher ground after an island formed on their land.

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Vast swathes of rich farmland are now underwater

In communities where locals herded cattle and grew grains like sorghum, fish are now scurrying through the water and large water lilies have spread across the surface.

The entire ecosystem, covering an area of ​​approximately 1,300 square kilometers, has changed beyond recognition.

The carefully constructed rooftops of many towns and villages can be seen above the waterline, but there is no sign – or sound – of life from within. Highways and roads were washed away.

We hitchhiked to Bor aboard a United Nations World Food Program (WFP) helicopter, which is now supporting 2.6 million people in South Sudan with emergency food assistance.

But there is no way to travel past Bor and into the floodplains in a conventional vehicle.

Instead, WFP uses amphibious devices called “sherps,” and Sky News received a few seats in the back of one of these devices as part of a mission to save an aging sea wall.

The floodwaters that submerge counties in Jonglei State originate from two separate sources.

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Children waded in floodwaters after the Nile broke the dykes at Pibor last year

Much of the water flowed from Lake Victoria – at the head of the Nile river system – some 800 kilometers to the north.

Unprecedented precipitation has been pouring into the lake since the summer of 2019.

The Ugandans, who control the dam at the top of the Nile, released water to prevent what is known as “ebb” from destroying communities on the lake itself.

As a result, the White Nile blew up its banks with devastating effect in South Sudan.

The second source is in last year’s rainy season – which has never stopped in South Sudan.

The UN uses special vehicles to get around
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The UN uses special vehicles to get around

Now this year’s monsoon is predicted to begin. The cumulative effect of the two events resulted in fundamental environmental changes.

The UN is trying to restore an aging dike in the vicinity of Bor.

It would allow tens of thousands of people to return to the land, but the earthworks have been destroyed in more than 40 places by the floods.

Residents want to get back to farming
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Residents want to get back to farming

We saw small groups of men carrying 80kg bags of sand and mud up in just one of these sizable spaces.

They are 1,500 working on the dike and all are men who worked in the region. Now they are living in IDP camps in the surrounding towns and villages and everyone here dreams of returning to the land.

“We have to protect our land – it’s our land and the water is out of our control,” said a young man named Mangol Guy Peter.

“God has taken but he will also provide. “

But the Minister of State for Housing in Jonglei, Elijah Mabior Bol, is less certain of God’s role. He suspects that his nation will bear the brunt of decisions made by human beings in distant places.

Minister of State for Housing in Jonglei State thinks global warming is to blame
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Minister of State for Housing in Jonglei State thinks global warming is to blame

“It’s when you’ve given up thinking, scientifically, that’s why you say it’s God,” he said.

“But for us, we say it’s a global warning. I remember back in 1966 and 1967 we used to walk here from Bor on foot and now it’s different territory. I can’t believe it – I can’t believe it was the ground we walked on when we were in elementary school in the 60’s. That has totally changed. “

The people who grew grain and raised animals in that area have left. Those who remain must fish or grind water lily flowers in small amounts of grain.

It’s a tough new world and they’re trying to adjust.

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