Voice of America (Washington, DC)

14 March 2014

South Sudan: Early Heavy Rains Pummel S. Sudanese

The International Rescue Committee says early rains in South Sudan have created catastrophic conditions for thousands of displaced people. The humanitarian agency says it's a race against time to provide shelter, sanitation and clean water.

Heavy rain and powerful winds struck Juba last Friday night. The storm lasted just an hour, but when the skies cleared the damage was severe.

IRC South Sudan Country Director Wendy Taeuber surveyed the U.N. Tomping Displacement Camp -- once filled with shelters made of plastic sheeting and bamboo sticks.

She said, "646 were destroyed in just one hour of that intense rain with the severe winds. The base holds 23,000 people. But if one hour of rain can do that kind of damage, it's a matter of time before hundreds more are losing their shelters."

About 8,000 people are living in flood conditions at the Tomping site. The IRC and other groups are encouraging the displaced to move to sites on higher ground. But Taeuber said many are reluctant to move.

"There are two bases holding displaced people in Juba. One of them is lower than the other. So, one idea to try and help the situation is to relocate them to the drier site, which is also flood prone, but not as bad. But this is all within Juba. People are afraid to move too much. So, it's a matter of making sure we can guarantee safety if we are able to move them to the other sites."

Taeuber said at least 10,000 people should be moved from Tomping. The other U.N. base where the displaced have gathered in Juba is known as U.N. House.

The muddy conditions will make any effort to move the displaced difficult .Taeuber said another big storm is expected to hit the area in a few days.

The roads around the camps are made of murrum, a mixture of stones, sand and earth. When the roads collapsed from the rains, people used pieces of murrum to construct shelters.

In all, there are more than 700,000 internally displaced people in South Sudan.

The early rains are expected to spread soon from the Juba area to other parts of South Sudan. Some 200 kilometers north of Juba, there's concern about what might happen in Minkaman in Awerial County in East Lakes State. There are about 50,000 displaced people there - many sheltering under trees. Construction has just begun on three new sites for the displaced in Minkaman.

The International rescue Committee Country Director said it's difficult to pre-position emergency supplies in South Sudan.

"It's a difficult choice whether to have them stored here in a central location and then bring them out when the rain might make a place inaccessible or send them out now. But in terms of the fighting that's still ongoing and lack of law and order in these areas there's a great risk of losing the materials to looting and theft," she said.

The International Rescue Committee also has programs in South Sudan to help protect women and girls from sexual violence. Taeuber says as women leave the safety of camps to find shelter materials, they are vulnerable to attack. It's unclear how many women and girls may have been attacked since the conflict began in December. Taeuber said South Sudanese women are hesitant to report such incidents.

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