A silver lining in South Sudan

Female refugees at a flooded camp in South Sudan. Photo by: B. Sokol / UNHCR

As dark clouds roll over South Sudan, humanitarian actors face a dilemma. Heavy rain is cutting off many parts of the country, but it also dampens the conflict in the world’s newest nation.

South Sudan’s Jonglei state has been a subject of humanitarian concern in recent months. Renewed clashes between government troops and non-state actors, as well as inter-communal violence, have displaced thousands of civilians in the area, where insecurity has also hampered aid delivery by U.N. agencies and nongovernmental organizations.

But with the downpour this week, which signals the coming of the rainy season in Jonglei, humanitarian organizations are hopeful that the clashes will soon be significantly reduced.

U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs head in South Sudan Vincent Lelei described the rain as a “silver lining.”

“When the rainy season comes, and flooding happens in many places, the ability of different individuals who would have wanted to cause problems are completely reduced because they cannot move easily from one point to another point,” he told Devex.

U.N. humanitarian coordinator in South Sudan Toby Lanzer tweeted that the downpour is “good news” and will lead to less violence and fewer number of displaced people.

But bad weather is a double-edged sword in this fragile state.

Sixty percent of South Sudan becomes inaccessible by road during the rainy season, which usually starts in May and lasts until October. The situation in Jonglei is worse: 90 percent of the roads are submerged.

This restricts aid workers from reaching communities affected by floods and in dire need of assistance. Airlifting relief goods is an option but up to ten times more expensive than delivering aid by land, Lelei explained.

In addition to this, the only route to Pibor country, where an army offensive against rebels was launched in recent weeks, is currently off-limits to aid workers following an ambush by rebels on April 9 that led to the death of several U.N. mission personnel and civilian contractors. The situation is already affecting efforts by U.N. agencies and NGOs in prepositioning relief supplies in Pibor.

U.N. staff are currently assessing whether the road is now safe for travel or will at least be open before the official start of the rainy season.

Violence in Jonglei forced nearly 400,000 people to flee their homes in 2012. The exact number of currently displaced people in the state due to the fighting remains unclear.

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About the author

  • Ravelo jennylei

    Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.