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South Sudan struggles amid droughts, floods and violence

Deng Atem
A rise in droughts and floods in recent years, combined with violent conflict, hampers food production in South Sudan.
3.07.2014  |  Juba
A flooded homestead in South Sudan’s Northern Bahr el Ghazal State, September 2012.
A flooded homestead in South Sudan’s Northern Bahr el Ghazal State, September 2012.

A comment by Deng Atem Kuol

The few South Sudanese citizens who farm do not cultivate nearly enough food to feed the entire population. Additionally, climate change and violent conflict further impede food production, meaning less food for those who cannot afford imported food stuffs.

And there is evidence that natural disasters are hitting food production harder in recent years. Droughts and floods in South Sudan in 2013 caused three times more impact than in 2011, according to the United Nations.

The 2013 rainy season affected over 313,000 people in 44 of South Sudan’s 79 counties. The rainy season affected over 313,000 people in 44 of South Sudan’s 79 counties compared to 80,000 people who were affected by seasonal floods just two years earlier, the 2013 data suggest. Jonglei State was the worst hit, with flooding displacing hundreds of thousands of people, destroying crops, houses and basic infrastructure, including roads.

Droughts and floods damage farm yields and the national harvest, reducing food availability, and agricultural income from crop sales. Poor harvests threaten food security, especially for the many families who depend on agriculture for their food and income. Households and economies that are more diversified are less vulnerable to droughts and floods.

There is mounting evidence of long-term climate change in several parts of South Sudan. This is witnessed by very regular severe flooding in the states of Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile. There is an urgent need for improved climate analysis, disaster prediction and risk reduction for South Sudan and, in particular for the greater Upper Nile region.

Africa is the continent that will be hit hardest by climate change.”
Dr. Wangari Muta Maathai
 
 
Africa will likely bear the brunt of climate change, according to the late Dr. Wangari Muta Maathai, the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner: Africa is the continent that will be hit hardest by climate change. Unpredictable rains and floods, prolonged droughts, subsequent crop failures and rapid desertification, among other signs of global warming, have in fact already begun to change the face of Africa.”

Some efforts are underway to help farmers recover from the devastating effects of droughts and floods on agriculture. There are plans to involve farmers’ access to key inputs, like seeds, that boost production following severe weather.
 
Tree planting is a key way to ward off climate change, and such programmes should be a priority for communities, the government and non-governmental organisations. This will counteract deforestation, a serious problem that encourages the spread of deserts and renders soil unsuitable for cultivation unless irrigation systems are built. Huge quantities of fertile soil are stripped from the land each year as a result of deforestation and poor land management.

Conflict, displacement and food insecurity are three of the most pressing problems for South Sudan.Desert conditions can be avoided by regulating the felling of trees and using hardy, drought-resistant deep-rooting tree seedlings capable of tapping any groundwater resources that may be available. Also useful is adopting an agroforestry system involving planting combinations of mutually beneficial species.
 
Climate change and environmental degradation are issues that South Sudan cannot afford to ignore. Conflict, displacement and food insecurity are three of the most pressing problems for South Sudan, which have sparked the current international humanitarian aid effort.

Natural and partly man-made disasters such as drought, desertification and floods are major contributing causes to these problems. For the Government of South Sudan, tackling these issues will require major investment in natural resources management, as well new policies for the sustainable use of natural resources. The international community, meanwhile, needs to shift its focus from humanitarian relief to sustainable development.