The dramatic flood events of the past four years are a stark reminder of the water-related threats faced by South Sudan. The May-November 2021 floods, reportedly the most devastating since the early 1960s, affected 9 out of 10 states, impacting around one million people and displacing more than 300,000. South Sudan is already a global hotspot of flood risk, ranking 7th in the world for share of total country population exposed to river floods, and the situation is expected to worsen under climate change.
While flood risks are capturing headlines, they are just one of the many threats from water insecurity. Lack of access to safe water supply and sanitation is a core issue of concern for the dignity and well-being of millions of South Sudanese, with more than 60% of the population (or about 6.6 million people) using contaminated and at-risk sources, such as surface water and unprotected wells, and 75% (8.2 million people) practicing open defecation. South Sudan also experiences frequent droughts, especially in the south-east and north-east, which affect the mobility of pastoralists and farmers who rely on natural resources for their livelihoods.
The report also shows that South Sudan can harness the ubiquity of water to advance national development and stability agendas. Water resources availability and variability play a key role in supporting productive and resilient livelihoods and ecosystems in South Sudan. Seasonal flooding sustains livelihoods for about six million people living along the Nile and Sobat Rivers and the wide eastern and western floodplains. These populations and their livelihoods depend heavily on the country’s natural capital, notably the iconic Sudd Wetland, whose economic value is estimated to be at least $3.2 billion.
The report highlights five priorities;
The country needs to strengthen the policy and institutional frameworks to guide water sector investments and ensure their sustainability.
It is essential to address the water supply and sanitation crisis by strengthening service delivery models for rural populations, enabling sustainable use and management of groundwater resources, and promoting climate-resilient solutions.
Advancing disaster risk preparedness and early warning systems will help prevent flood losses and economic damages that are hindering growth prospects.
There are substantial opportunities to harness the productive potential of water through investments supporting domestic fish production, wetland restoration, and flood-recession agriculture.
A comprehensive portfolio of water management infrastructure solutions is needed over the long term, with careful attention to the social and environmental impacts of investments.
Policies and investments needed to achieve water security involve uncertainty, making commitment to an iterative planning approach crucial. Countries that successfully manage water risks do so by implementing water policies, carefully monitoring their impacts and results, and learning from their successes and failures. A water-secure future—one that harnesses the productive potential of water while managing its destructive force—can be achieved by putting in place the levers and tools needed to adapt this complex system to a dynamically changing world.
The Global Water, Security, and Sanitation Partnership (GWSP) supported this work.