Rain was much heavier than usual: Frontline sharing from South Sudan

Jason VAN DYKE is a logistician from Canada, working with Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in Lankien, Jonglei state. Jonglei has been hit heavily by flooding this year and MSF has been providing assistance to people in affected areas in and around Lankien in the state’s north. In October, Jason and a team of seven MSF staff trekked 31 kilometres from Lankien to the village of Padding in order to distribute emergency relief items to 1000 families affected by severe flooding.
“This year’s rains have been much heavier than usual and people have told us the flooding is the worst they have seen in recent years. During the wet season there is always water everywhere, however steady rains in August raised the water level much higher than people’s small defences could cope with. Many people were displaced from their mud homes as they filled with water or even collapsed from steady rain. I was actually stuck at MSF’s outreach site in Wuror for some time because the rains made it impossible for our plane to land. When the rain gets really bad, even moving by air becomes difficult!

A quick visit by MSF staff found Padding county was one of the areas heavily affected by flooding. People there were in need of shelter as their houses had either flooded or collapsed and they had had to move to higher ground in neighbouring villages or to relatives’ houses. Food supply was a concern, but the host families provided support. The problem was that Padding was not accessible either by road or plane.  

Helicopters are in high demand during the rainy season in South Sudan because airstrips become un-landable for planes. We were able to secure a helicopter to transport the relief items (blankets, buckets, mosquito nets and plastic sheets), but not to transport the team. Our team in Lankien prides itself on going above and beyond to reach people who need assistance. So it was decided that we would walk the 31 kilometres from Lankien to Padding to carry out the distribution.

We left Lankien at 7.30am and walked for ten hours. Most of the ground was dry and extremely hard and uneven due to recent flood waters receding. Two ‘streams’ needed to be crossed, which involved wading through water, sometimes up to our chests, for around one kilometre. I was advised to wear rubber shoes by people who had done previous distributions in another village, Majok, which was five kilometres from Lankien. This was a big mistake! The ground was dry and hard on my spoiled Canadian feet. Distance? No problem. Wading in a swamp? Been there and done that dozens of times before. But always in decent footwear!

People we met along on the trail were quite surprised to see ‘khawajas’ (foreigners) and some could not believe we were actually walking from Lankien to Padding. MSF was actually the only organisation that visited Padding since the beginning of the rainy season. On the walk we noticed the piles of drying sorghum – the staple grain here in South Sudan – grow noticeably smaller and smaller the farther from Lankien we walked. The rains had been so heavy that the crops had been damaged.

When you arrive in Padding, you don’t see much as the population is extremely spread out. Families live in the traditional mud and thatch huts called tukuls. We saw some damaged tukuls, but none that were collapsed, so we knew that Padding village was the higher ground to where people were coming. The crops were visibly suffering as very little sorghum could be purchased locally. People were living off their goats or cows. In South Sudan, this is kind of like eating money for dinner.

The location of our distribution appeared to be in the middle of nowhere. A simple mud and tin sheet building that serves as the school house and a few neighbouring tukuls are all that's to be seen in an uninterrupted field. The nearest tukuls would be at least 500 metres away and neighbouring villages easily ten kilometres or further. Many women who came to collect the relief items had to travel nearly a day and then stay in the area overnight.

We set up a camp and met with the local chiefs and administrators to work out the best way to distribute the items evenly among the ten nearby villages. We identified a landing site, cleared it of tall grass and relayed the coordinates to the helicopter. The next day we marked a large ring with flags, fixed a large MSF flag and lit a signal fire, ready to receive the helicopters carrying all the relief items. We hired 40 locals to unload the helicopters and move the materials to the distribution site. We also distributed 1000 tokens to the most affected families in the ten surrounding villages to make sure our response reached everyone who needed it. The support from the local chiefs and population really ensured things ran smoothly.

On the day of the distribution, a steady stream of people came to the site to collect their kits. In the end we distributed 775 plastic sheets, 992 buckets, 660 blankets, and 840 mosquito nets to the 1000 affected families. The following day, we made the ten hour trek back to Lankien. Along the way we were greeted with smiles and thanks from the women who were returning to their own villages with the items on top of their heads!”

Western Equatoria
Following heavy flooding in parts of Western Equatoria state in September, MSF carried out emergency relief item distributions in three affected areas – Nzara, Lui and Ibba. MSF teams responded to the most urgent needs of the population, the most affected of whom had lost their homes and household items. The teams distributed 130 kits in Nzara, 299 in Lui and 32 in Ibba, with families receiving plastic sheets, blankets, mosquito nets, jerry cans, soap, buckets and cooking equipment.
South Sudan