In Bentiu, UNMISS continues to help alleviate the impact of severe climate shocks

UNMISS Pakistan floods climate change bentiu south sudan united nations un peacekeeping peacekeepers

In Bentiu, South Sudan, two years of incessant floods have created a climate crisis like no other this young nation has seen before. However, UNMISS engineers from Pakistan continue to mount an extraordinary response to save lives, sustain livelihoods and protect civilians. Photo by Gregorio Cunha/UNMISS

27 Mar 2023

In Bentiu, UNMISS continues to help alleviate the impact of severe climate shocks

Roseline Nzelle Nkwelle

UNITY – “Floods across Unity state have been relentless,” reveals Hiroko Hirahara, Head of Office for the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

Ms. Hirahara is based in Bentiu, and she has seen firsthand the devastation wrought by incessant rainfall in the past two years.

“Homes have been swept away, people’s farms and crops destroyed and not to mention, the number of people displaced by floodwaters have increased steadily,” she explains.

“Our goal, as the largest UN presence on the ground, has been to forge partnerships with all counterparts—humanitarians, local communities, state authorities—to come up with a consolidated plan to alleviate widespread suffering.”

When the water levels first began rising alarmingly in 2021, UNMISS engineers from Pakistan swiftly led the charge by building hundreds of kilometers of dykes, temporary defense structures against the cascading waters and leaching mud.

“We were the first responders and constructed some 88 kilometers of dykes during the first phase,” explains Major Waqas Saeed Khan, Commanding Officer of the Pakistani engineers.

UNMISS peacekeepers from Ghana and Mongolia were also patrolling these dykes continuously to report on and sandbag any breakage or leaks.

Attempting to reduce the catastrophic consequences of rising water levels, UNMISS, humanitarian partners and the state government set up a Flood Emergency Response Technical Group, a nexus that worked 24/7 to monitor the situation and provide early warnings so that on-ground interventions could take every eventuality into account while shoring up these temporary mud structures.

Humanitarian partners were equally involved in this extraordinary response, contributing excavators, water pumps, fuel, and other equipment.

More importantly, thousands of affected civilians received substantial food, water, sanitation and hygiene assistance from the International Organization for Migration, the World Food Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization, UNICEF, and the UN Refugee Agency.

Other contributors include the International Rescue Committee, the Danish Refugee Council and Welthungerhilfe did their bit too.

But the unforgiving tide kept rising.

“When we arrived to Bentiu in 2021, the water level was 90 centimeters deep. By 2022, water levels virtually doubled and, now, in 2023, we are talking of around 190 centimeters of flood waters in some locations,” reveals Major Khan.

Tens of thousands of people remain displaced from their places of origin, some of them in hard-to-reach areas with no means of livelihood.

“The state government has recently begun distributing food to people who have been displaced by this climate calamity,” says Peter Portsix, Spokesperson, Unity state government.

“However, many roads are impassable and waterlogged. We have tons of foodgrains stuck in Bentiu awaiting distribution to other counties,” he narrates.

Despite every hardship, lives must be saved, livelihoods sustained, and health and environmental hazards mitigated. UNMISS is, therefore, finding innovative ways to tackle the crisis.

“Our work in past months has mainly been to reinforce dykes. We are transforming them into three-and-a-half meter high walls, which are wide enough for vehicles and people to use as roads,” says Major Khan.

For their part, Ghanaian peacekeepers are making sure that UNMISS engineers can work without interruptions.

“It’s a serious hazard having children walking on the dykes, and even swimming in the flood waters while construction and repairs are ongoing. We are, therefore, helping our engineering colleagues continue their lifesaving work while keeping everyone safe,” explains Sophia Eva Ennim, Commanding Officer of Ghana’s Formed Police Unit.

“The situation across Unity state is overwhelming,” adds Ms. Hirahara. “But we are continuing consolidated efforts because everybody must do their part if we are to rise above this crisis.”