Bentiu— “Everything is gone, I have to start afresh.”
Since Tut Patai’s father introduced him to cattle keeping at a tender age, his entire life had been surrounded by hundreds of cattle—until last year when disaster hit.
In the months that followed heavy flooding in September, the 45-year-old lost over 120 heads of cattle. Now, an ailing cow and calf are his only treasures.
“Because of the floods I have lost all my cattle,” says Mr. Patai, looking at the only remaining cow and calf. The animals look sick, and their bones are protruding.
“They don’t have enough to eat because the grass is underwater.”
Every day, Mr. Patai wades through the flood waters to collect grass to feed his two animals. It has been like this since he returned to his home village in the Shilack area of Rubkona town.
Mr. Patai is not alone. His village mate, Gatkuoth Mut Baboth had 250 cattle. But nearly 200 of them have died.
“Life is going to be very hard,” he says of the future that awaits the pastoralist community.
This is the scale of destruction caused by record flooding in Bentiu, the northern town of South Sudan’s Unity State. Locals say it is the worst flooding they have experienced in 60 years.
Across the country, record rainfall in the past three years and overflowing rivers, flooded thousands of hectares of farmland in eight states – preventing people from planting crops. More than 850,000 people have been affected across the country and need urgent life-saving support.
In the worst-hit Unity State, at least 220,000 have been affected, including 110,000 people who were already displaced due to conflict.
The flooding is a big blow to the east African country, which is already facing one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. At least 8.9 million people are reported to be in need of humanitarian and protection assistance this year due to conflict, disasters and climate change, compared to 8.3 million people in 2021, according to UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Globally in 2021, from over 40 million new displacements, nearly 31 million people around the world were displaced by disasters. The Global Assessment Report predicts that by 2030, 560 disasters will take place annually – more than 1.5 disasters per day, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.
“I don’t know if the remaining 50 will survive,” says the 42-year-old. “Some people have lost more than me.”
The harsh impacts of the floods in Bentiu have marooned people in highlands and camps protected by dikes holding back floodwaters.
Since the onset of flooding last year, IOM scaled up critical infrastructure works to secure displaced persons camps and residents of Bentiu and Rubkona towns.
To recover submerged villages, IOM is constructing and reinforcing berms and dikes, and pumping stagnant waters out over the dikes to ensure continued humanitarian access along core supply roads.
With support from the South Sudan Humanitarian Fund (SSHF), and the United Nations Central Emergency Fund (CERF), IOM reclaimed submerged villages including Shilack, a village of about 100,000 square meters in Rubkona town.
The initial work involved sandbagging sections of the dikes that were damaged, deployment of excavators to rehabilitate the most critical sections of the dike and discharging water over the dikes.
“For us to be able to stand here, and for the children that have returned with their families, it has taken at least one and a half months of significant recovery works involving sandbagging, deployment of excavators to rehabilitate the most critical sections of the dike and discharging water for at least 18 hours every day,” explains Joshua Kanyara, IOM’s Emergency Coordinator in Bentiu.
“We deployed 8 trash pumps that have been running for at least 18 hours every day.”
“Nobody thought we would recover this area, but the work is progressing well. We shall completely disagree the water and protect this area from flooding.”
Significant progress has been made on targeted infrastructure activities in the Internally Displaced Peoples camp, Rubkona and Bentiu preventing the likelihood of flooding from initial rains.
So far, 28.2 kilometers of dikes have been completed and more than 15.52km of access road rehabilitated in Bentiu town.
The recovery work has given hope to displaced people, some of whom have returned. Rubkona Primary School which had remained closed after it was submerged has been renovated and reopened.
“Our village was submerged with water but now it has been recovered. We thought as a community the water will not disappear, but IOM stood with us that’s why the water has been pumped back to where it came from. If had not done this work, we would not be standing here right now,” says Gatkuoth Mut Baboth, a resident of Rubkona.
“If it were not for IOM, we would not be standing here,” he adds.
“All these were people’s homes. Now it is nothing,” he says, pointing at remains of family property in the newly recovered Shilack village.
The upgraded dikes and access roads have given hope to flood displaced people in Bentiu.
Nyariek Duoth who was displaced from Guit County now lives at the Site E camp where IOM has strengthened the road connecting the displacement site to Bentiu town.
“When we came out of the water, the only two things that we guarded so much were the food token and the children.”
“When we camped here, we became less worried because of the dikes that have encircled this camp.”
This story was written by Jale Richard, IOM Media and Communications Assistant in South Sudan email@example.com