The dramatic flood events of the past four years are a stark reminder of the water-related threats faced by South Sudan. The May-November 2021 floods, reportedly the most devastating since the early 1960s, affected 9 out of 10 states, impacting around one million people and displacing more than 300,000. South Sudan is already a global hotspot of flood risk, ranking 7th in the world for share of total country population exposed to river floods, and the situation is expected to worsen under climate change.
The new World Bank report Rising from the Depths: Water Security and Fragility in South Sudan describes the impact of floods and other water-related threats on South Sudan’s communities. Focusing on water for people, production, and protection, it shows that water insecurity is an existential threat to South Sudan.
While flood risks are capturing headlines, they are just one of the many threats from water insecurity. Lack of access to safe water supply and sanitation is a core issue of concern for the dignity and well-being of millions of South Sudanese, with more than 60% of the population (or about 6.6 million people) using contaminated and at-risk sources, such as surface water and unprotected wells, and 75% (8.2 million people) practicing open defecation. South Sudan also experiences frequent droughts, especially in the south-east and north-east, which affect the mobility of pastoralists and farmers who rely on natural resources for their livelihoods.
“Most of the harm from climate change will come in the form of water: increased frequency of droughts and floods, changes in flow patterns in rivers, lower water quality, and impacts on groundwater availability. If unmanaged, these risks will lead to worsening impacts on food security, the movement of people, the security of communities, ecosystems, and the economy. The productive potential of water can contribute to economic diversification, for example through investments in irrigation, river transport and ecosystem protection”, said His Excellency Dr. James Wani Igga, Vice President, South Sudan.
Focusing on water for people, production, and protection, it shows that water insecurity is an existential threat to South Sudan
The report also shows that South Sudan can harness the ubiquity of water to advance national development and stability agendas. Water resources availability and variability play a key role in supporting productive and resilient livelihoods and ecosystems in South Sudan. Seasonal flooding sustains livelihoods for about six million people living along the Nile and Sobat Rivers and the wide eastern and western floodplains. These populations and their livelihoods depend heavily on the country’s natural capital, notably the iconic Sudd Wetland, whose economic value is estimated to be at least $3.2 billion.
“South Sudan must leverage its water endowment and move towards a long-term development approach to address water insecurity. This requires building water infrastructure, including water storage. However, responding to floods and droughts is not just a matter of building infrastructure, but also of preventing populations from moving into harm’s way and of devising information systems and institutional arrangements to increase preparedness and early warning,” said Victoria Kwakwa, World Bank Regional Vice President for Eastern and Southern Africa.
The report highlights five priorities. First, the country needs to strengthen the policy and institutional frameworks to guide water sector investments and ensure their sustainability. Second, it is essential to address the water supply and sanitation crisis by strengthening service delivery models for rural populations, enabling sustainable use and management of groundwater resources, and promoting climate-resilient solutions. Third, advancing disaster risk preparedness and early warning systems will help prevent flood losses and economic damages that are hindering growth prospects. Fourth, there are substantial opportunities to harness the productive potential of water through investments supporting domestic fish production, wetland restoration, and flood-recession agriculture. Finally, a comprehensive portfolio of water management infrastructure solutions is needed over the long term, with careful attention to the social and environmental impacts of investments.
“We look forward to continuing the policy dialogue with the Government of South Sudan and its partners on water. By applying best practices in climate resilience, gender equality, social inclusion, and citizen engagement, the Government will be able to gradually increase access to water supply and sanitation services for local communities and enhance disaster preparedness,” said Ousmane Dione, World Bank Country Director for Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, and South Sudan.