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Floods in South Sudan cut off pregnant mothers from health services

By Simon Deng

Floods continue to pound in South Sudan, and are denying pregnant women across the country access to antenatal check-ups as well as other health needs.

Out of ten States in the war-torn country, eight have been hit by the floods which have caused the Nile river and other tributaries to burst their banks.

The worst affected States are Jonglei, Upper Nile, Unity and as well as in the Bahr el Ghazal region.

Several pregnant mothers in Jonglei state have decried the dire health situation as medical facilities are submerged and workers forced to relocate to higher ground.

In Lenguet, South of Bor the capital, Ayen Awan, a 26-year-old pregnant woman is caught up in that situation.

“We are missing critical health services,” the mother of 5 children told Juba Echo by phone on November 1.

“We are faced by challenges, for instance, the primary health care unit that used to provide neonatal services has long closed down due to flooding, similar units and centres have followed suit,” she said, noting that services can only be got from the main health facility, Bor State Hospital.

Ayen, whose delivery date is due can’t access that facility which is about 5 kilometres away, a seemingly short distance but with floods and pregnancy, is an ordeal.

“For me who is close to delivery, I cannot walk long distances because of the fatigue and also there is fear of complications that may arise while wading alone through water,” she said.

For Ajah Ayuen, Jarweng Primary Health Care Unit was her main source of health services, but like in other parts, it’s also under water.

“Jarweng Primary Health Care Unit is submerged under water. The care I used to get before flooding is now missing, “the 18-year-old mother of two, told Juba Echo.

Weakest health system

Ajah said people from her community had to relocate to higher ground in the east of Jarweng Village and are faced with lack of essential services including shelter, food and health.

“We are now left vulnerable without access to the critical health care,” she said.

South Sudan is recovering from six years of crisis that has destroyed service delivery including in the health sector.

The war left 400,000 people dead and displaced four million others, slashed the country’s crude production and left its economy in tatters.

Yet even before the war, it had one of the weakest health systems in the world and now it solely relies on health partners with donor funding to provide for the medical needs of the people. COVID-19 soured the situation further and now the floods.

Even though the flooding is commonplace in South Sudan, the intensity of its current impact has been described as unusual.

It is reportedly the worst in 60 years and the United Nations is linking it to climate change.

In some parts of the country, it’s the third straight year of extreme flooding and has left livelihoods at stake.

Floods reversing gains

Villages have been swept away or submerged and thousands have been rendered homeless.

Consequently, many fled their homes and are seeking shelter on higher ground as they wait for water levels to subside.

According to the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) “the inundation is threatening to reverse gains made in food security as floodwaters swallow up large swaths of farmland and pastures, destroy crops, and drown precious livestock and entire villages.”

WFP warned that more than 750,000 people in 31 counties across eight states have been affected by the floods including 365,000 who have been displaced.

“The climate emergency is very real in South Sudan, causing unspeakable suffering, destroying people’s livelihoods and pushing them deeper into poverty and hunger,” Adeyinka Badejo, WFP acting Country Director in South Sudan said in a statement emailed on November 9.

“WFP is re-prioritizing and redirecting its resources to respond to this new crisis,” she said.

“We are delivering vital food and supplies by air to people in areas that have been cut off by floods.”

The agency said the scale of devastation has seriously impacted people’s livelihoods and food production, significantly jeopardizing their food security and nutrition with the harvest likely to be lower in 2021 than last year.

“The catastrophic floods come on top of continuing conflict, economic crisis and the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic,” it said.

Health facilities helpless

In October, authorities in Unity State warned that almost 90 percent of the state was submerged, leaving very few safe havens for displaced people.

And again, in Jonglei, pregnant women cut off in the villages are in critical need of antenatal services, Mary Achol, a certified midwife working at at Bor Teaching Hospital told Juba Echo.

Those who manage to access the government facility sometimes end up getting poor services because of the huge numbers, according to Achol.

“We have challenges of mothers delivering in the villages,” Achol said.

Some “mothers come all the way from the counties in Jonglei and others come from Awerial in Lakes state and we have 52 beds in the ward which is not enough,” she said.

“Some admitted mothers are kept lying on the floor, we need more space.”

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