Reclaiming Bentiu from floods

South Sudan | 2021 | CERF

Bentiu, South Sudan— “Everything is gone, I have to start afresh.”

Since Tut Patai’s father introduced him to cattle keeping at a tender age, he has spent his life surrounded by hundreds of cattle—until last year when disaster hit.

In the months that followed heavy flooding in September, the 45-year-old lost over 120 animals. “Because of the floods I have lost all my cattle,” says Mr. Patai, looking at the only remaining cow and calf. The animals look sick, and their bones are protruding.

“They don’t have enough to eat because the grass is underwater.”

Every day, Mr. Patai wades through the flood waters to collect grass to feed his two animals. It has been like this since he returned to his home village in the Shilack area of Rubkona town.

Mr. Patai is not alone. His neighbor, Gatkuoth Mut Baboth had 250 cattle. But nearly 200 of them have died.

“I don’t know if the remaining 50 will survive,” says the 42-year-old. “Some people have lost more than me.”

“Life is going to be very hard,” he says of the future that awaits the pastoralist community.

Record flooding

This is the scale of destruction caused by record flooding in Bentiu, the northern town of South Sudan’s Unity State. Locals say it is the worst flooding they have experienced in 60 years.

Across the country, record rainfall in the past three years and overflowing rivers, flooded thousands of hectares of farmland in eight states – preventing people from planting crops. More than 850,000 people have been affected across the country and need urgent life-saving support.

In the worst-hit Unity State, at least 220,000 people have been affected, including 110,000 who were already displaced due to conflict.

The harsh effects of the floods in Bentiu have marooned people in highlands and camps protected by dikes holding back floodwaters.

Recovery efforts supported by OCHA pooled funds

Since the onset of flooding last year, IOM scaled up critical infrastructure works to secure displaced persons camps and the residents of Bentiu and Rubkona towns.

To recover submerged villages, IOM is constructing and reinforcing berms and dikes, and pumping stagnant waters out over the dikes to ensure continued humanitarian access along core supply roads.

With support from the South Sudan Humanitarian Fund (SSHF), and the United Nations Central Emergency Fund (CERF), IOM reclaimed submerged villages including Shilack, a village of about 100,000 square meters in Rubkona town.

The initial work involved sandbagging sections of the dikes that were damaged, deployment of excavators to rehabilitate the most critical sections of the dike and discharging water over the dikes.

“For us to be able to stand here, and for the children that have returned with their families, it has taken at least one and a half months of significant recovery works involving sandbagging, deployment of excavators to rehabilitate the most critical sections of the dike and discharging water for at least 18 hours every day,” explains Joshua Kanyara, IOM’s Emergency Coordinator in Bentiu.

“We deployed 8 trash pumps that have been running for at least 18 hours every day.”

“Nobody thought we would recover this area, but the work is progressing well.”

Significant progress has been made on targeted infrastructure activities in the Internally Displaced Peoples camp, Rubkona and Bentiu preventing the likelihood of flooding from initial rains.

So far, 28.2 kilometers of dikes have been completed and more than 15.52km of access road rehabilitated in Bentiu town.

The recovery work has given hope to displaced people, some of whom have returned. Rubkona Primary School which had remained closed after it was submerged has been renovated and reopened.

“Our village was submerged with water but now it has been recovered. We thought as a community the water will not disappear, but IOM stood with us that’s why the water has been pumped back to where it came from. If had not done this work, we would not be standing here right now,” says Gatkuoth Mut Baboth, a resident of Rubkona.

“All these were people’s homes. Now it is nothing,” he says, pointing at remains of family property in the newly recovered Shilack village.

Republished with minor edits. Original story is accessible here (