Marjolaine Bos, field coordinator for SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL, is back from South Sudan after a year and a half on the field. On the World Climate Day, she reports on (and rants about) the devastation caused by floods and global warming, which are affecting a population already affected by years of crisis.
On Thursday 25 November at 6am, I’m in the taxi on my way back from the airport after a year and a half of humanitarian work in South Sudan for SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL. Surprisingly, the driver who asks me this question seems to know more about the situation in this country than most of my friends, who still don’t know the difference between Sudan and South Sudan, the youngest country in the world, who gained its independence 10 years ago.
And yes, it is a bit of a trainwreck. Nearly 75% of the population is in dire need, as 7.2 million people face severe food insecurity, 1.4 million children suffer from malnutrition, and the life expectancy is 58 years.
I came home tired and frustrated from this mission, where humanitarian aid is needed more than ever, but where the funds available are decreasing every year, despite the escalation of the crisis. This year, floods have affected more than 780,000 people in the country. Neither the population nor the humanitarian organisations were prepared to deal with the unprecedented scale of this phenomenon, which is a direct consequence of global warming.
This lack of anticipation severely affects the population: humanitarian resources are not equipped to face the crisis and the little that is available requires extraordinary logistics and manpower to be distributed.
This explains why the World Food Programme is only meeting 30% of the needs of the displaced population, who have lost their crops and up to 70% of their livestock when the waters rose, and whose survival now depends on food distributions.
To distribute water purification tablets to South Sudanese communities, SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL teams have to canoe for 7 hours through tall grass, exposing themselves to the risk of malaria and snake bites. But this aid is too important to give up. Eighty percent of the territory’s population has no access to clean water, soap, or latrines, a perfect recipe for waterborne disease outbreaks such as cholera.
Disease prevention remains the best strategy to tackle contamination, as health facilities often are inaccessible or lack adequate medicine. A village chief called me to ask if it was possible to give him canoes, as three people from his community had died trying to cross the waters surrounding their village to reach the nearest health facility.
We are therefore witnessing one of the most severe humanitarian and climatic crisis of the century. It appears the majority of the international community has chosen to remain a spectator, to wait and see, or even to look the other way. While other crises manage to gain the attention of the whole planet, South Sudan joins the not very popular group of forgotten crises. I cannot help but notice that not all human lives carry the same value.
I’ve often been asked whether it is still important to provide aid to South Sudan: “We’ve been pumping in money for years, shouldn’t we let the country take care of themselves?” This has often kept me awake at night in my tent in Aburoc, an IDP camp of 10,000 people where SOLIDARITES INTERNATIONAL provides access to clean water.
South Sudan contributes to 0.1% of global greenhouse gas emissions, but is the 8th most impacted country by global warming in 2021, according to the think tank Germanwatch. This says it all: the poorest countries on this planet pay for the lifestyles of the richest. And the latter are neither ready to hear this, nor to take responsibility for it. So yes, I am convinced that we must continue to support South Sudan.
On this World Climate Day, on December 8, we will hear many declarations about the catastrophic state of the planet. Isn’t it time then to take a stand and to donate to an organization supporting the victims, who will become more and more numerous in the coming years?