By Chondok Stephen Magei
The menace of floods continues to manifest negatively on the lives of the people in South Sudan’s Unity State, and now coming with a new threat-children dying by drowning.
The tales are horrifying as parents and relatives mourn the deaths of their loved ones.
The floods, attributed to climatic change and unrelenting in the last three years reached its peak in 2021, and only rivalled by a similar one in the 1960s.
It affected about 800,000 people across South Sudan, losing their livelihoods and fleeing to higher ground with many cut off from the merest basic needs like shelter and health.
Unity State was one of the worst hit regions with all seven counties submerged.
In Bentiu Internally Displaced People’s Camp and the nearby Rubkhona town, at least 38 children have succumbed through drowning, according to Women Vision Organisation, a local nongovernmental organisation working to help children in Bentiu town.
Their main purpose is to encourage children play in child friendly spaces and avoid endangering their lives.
“We have recorded 38 cases of children drowning in Bentiu IDP camp and Rubkona town where we are operating,” the Project Coordinator of the organisation, Samuel Luny Kuol told Juba Echo in an interview.
In other parts, the counties of Koch, Leer and Mayendit have also not been spared the deaths of children by drowning. At least 12 children reported drowned bringing the cumulative number to 50.
“The main cause of this drowning is because most children swim in flood water without knowing the depth of the water,” Kuol said.
“I appeal to the entire community of Bentiu IDPs camp and Rubkona residents to stop allowing children to take shower in flooded areas.”
Much work needed
And even if the Women Vision Organisation and partners continue to respond to the security of children, much remains at stake.
One afternoon, Nyabour Tap Bol was resting after providing her children with the afternoon meal.
As she dosed off in her makeshift tent, she heard a blurt call of her name and jolted up.
Her 5-year-old child had fallen in a deep pond of water and by the time of recue, he was unconscious.
43 years old Bentiu IDPs camp resident whose 5 years old child survived from drowning Mrs. Nyabuor Tap said her child drowned in deep water but survive after one hour when health personnel applied first aids on the child.
“My child had gone out with the friends to bathe and them fell into the pond,” Bol narrated to Juba Echo.
As she recalls the incident, her body shudders with a quiver.
“He was unconscious for one hour but survived after getting first aid at the MSF hospital,” Bol said.
“I just fear going out now to collect firewood or do other businesses because I think I may lose him.”
Call for national dialogue
Its a threat whose remedy can only be prescribed through a national dialogue which seeks “to mitigate the likely effects of heavy rains,” the Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation said.
“Unavailability of accurate information on government strategy of how to deal with information provided is worrying after persistent floods recently displaced thousands of people in several parts of South Sudan,” Edmund Yakani, the Executive Director of the nongovernmental organisation said in an emailed statement.
The only remedy at hand is to create awareness on the dangers the flood poses to the life of people, acting Health Director in Rubkhona County, Kutey Gatdet Jinay told Juba Echo.
“More awareness is needed to reduce rampant drowning,” Jinay said.
“It’s not only children who are drowning, even adults are drowning but mostly drunkard people and people living with disability,” he said.
“I urge child protection agencies, community leaders and police force to curb this drowning situation.”
The police at Bentiu IDP camp has already deployed forces at water ponds to prevent children from accessing them, Col Banydeet Thokwath, the Police commander in the camp told Juba Echo.
“Now the deployed polices will patrolling along the water spill area,” Thokwath said.
“I am calling on protection partners and community to stand with us to reduce child drowning.”
The paramount chief of Rubkona County, Simon Biel Puot however warned on the need of vigilance to ensure drowning is mitigated.
“Serious action is needed to control children from taking shower around flooded areas,” Puot told Juba Echo.
“Not only children are drowning, even adults and for several several reasons, vulnerable, drunkard people and people living with disabilities are at high risks of drowning if this flood continues,” he said.