Infrastructure development to stop the menace of extreme floods in South Sudan
By Dr. Jacob K. Lupai
Vulnerability of communities is associated with climate variability and climate change. In this context, climate variability is associated with weather fluctuations in the short term while climate change reflects fluctuation in weather pattern over the long period. In South Sudan climate hazards are drought and extreme floods.
South Sudan has recently experienced devastating floods which have led to widespread loss of property, damage to infrastructure, the spread of waterborne diseases, notwithstanding the loss of livelihoods that has created a disastrous humanitarian situation. In view of this, it is appropriate to focus seriously on stopping the menace of floods in South Sudan in the present and in the future for the welfare of people.
Water is at the heart of human existence. It not only provides for household and cropping needs, but also provides a source of energy through hydropower schemes. It is worth noting that Africa hosts a large number of river basins shared by several states. For example, the Nile River basin is shared by eleven countries out of which South Sudan is one of them. It can be asserted that sub-Saharan Africa overall has large water resources for household, agricultural and energy needs. However, investment in infrastructure development is badly needed because some areas may suffer major shortfalls while others risk extreme bloods.
The recent extreme floods with the resultant humanitarian disaster in South Sudan confirm the urgency of investment in infrastructure development to stop the menace of floods. South Sudan is a country with an estimated area of 640,000 square kilometers and an estimated population of 12 million. It has six agroecological zones out of which two are where extreme flooding occurs. The two agroecological zones are the flood plains and, the Nile and Sobat corridor.
In the two agroecological zones livelihoods centre on high reliance on cattle and fish. The two zones make up over 50 per cent of South Sudan land area with also over 50 per cent of the population. This seems to confirm that the flood plains and, the Nile and Sobat corridor are potentially significant in the economic development of South Sudan. However, the area is prone to extreme flooding that severely impacts livelihoods, causing massive and extended internal migration of people to wherever higher grounds may be found.
The problem of extreme floods does not only affect the people of the flood plains and, the Nile and Sobat corridor, but the problem is also extended to those on adjacent higher grounds. As the floods produce internally displaced persons (IDPs), the problem is that the IDPs will migrate to resettle and occupy other people’s prime lands. For example, when the IDPs are pastoralists and resettle among farmers, the problem becomes obvious and may be a vicious conflict.
Pastoralists and farmers are not good bed fellows. The problem may be that pastoralists are unable to control their cattle grazing in fields that are planted with food crops. When this causes food insecurity it is likely to create a conflict between pastoralists and farmers. In view of this it is appropriate to look for a long-term solution. Resettlement of IDPs should be seen as a short-term measure. This is because no person would like to be an IDP for ever.
As may be seen, a long-term solution is needed to address the menace of floods in South Sudan. In responding to shifts in rainfall and extreme floods, there is a need for much more investment in infrastructure development in the flood plains and, the Nile and Sobat corridor.
For information, there are two major types of flood event. The first type of flood occurs during torrential rains when high levels of water overflow the River Nile and its tributaries. This is mainly during the rainy season. The second type of flood event is flash flooding which occurs from heavy localized rainfall during the rainy summer season. The two major types of flood event cause extreme floods in the two agroecological zones of flood plains and, the Nile and Sobat corridor in South Sudan.
When I was a young agricultural officer in Aweil Rice Scheme in the then Bahr el Ghazal Province, I was very impressed with how we could drive safely on dykes and work in well-constructed shelters in swampy areas where the rice grew. A network of dykes and a drainage system made this possible.
I am now beginning to imagine how will the flood plains and, the Nile and Sobat corridor look like when there is investment in infrastructure development. Specifically, investment should be in construction of a network of dykes to reclaim land from flood prone areas in the flood plains and, the Nile and Sobat corridor. Flood control should be taken seriously as a long-term solution to the menace of floods that cause enormous damage and humanitarian disaster to more than 50 per cent of the population every year. This is in addition to the problem of IDPs being too dependent on the state and may also create problems to host communities.
In these modern times and advanced technological development, people should not be again at the mercy of hostile nature that can be harnessed. With areas vulnerable to flooding, there should be dykes, dams and floodgates to provide defence against torrential rains. Construction of dykes will prevent flooding from water flowing into the area by the Nile and Sobat rivers. Dykes, drainage ditches, canals and pumping stations will all keep the flood plains dry for human habitation where mixed farming may flourish in order to achieve food security instead of the usual reliance on humanitarian handouts.
The Dutch are renown experts in dyke construction and land reclamation from the sea and from floods caused by rivers. It may be a good idea to consult with Dutch experts to make use of their technology in reclaiming the flood plains and, the Nile and Sobat corridor for permanent settlements of people and development of the area for a higher standard of living.
Incidentally, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations Project Manager of Aweil Rice Scheme was a Dutch and my immediate supervisor was also a Dutch.
In conclusion, investment in infrastructure development, as a practice but not as a theory, to stop the menace of floods affecting more than 50 per cent of the population of South Sudan every year, will eventually make extreme floods history and a thing of the past which will only be a good lesson to learn in nation building.