Declare Flooding in South Sudan’s Malakal Diocese “a national disaster”, Bishop Concerned

Bishop Stephen Nyodho of Malakal diocese at Good Shepherd Peace Center, Juba, South Sudan on 25 October 2019. He had just spoken to ACI Africa about the challenge of flooding in his diocese.
Credit: ACI Africa

South Sudan’s Malakal diocese, the most geographically vast of the seven dioceses of South Sudan, has been devastated by heavy flooding with hundreds of thousands of inhabitants affected and their lives at great risk, the Local Ordinary, Bishop Stephen Nyodho has confirmed in an interview with ACI Africa. He is calling on the government to declare the unprecedented phenomenon “a national disaster” and the international community to intervene to save lives.

“I am calling on our government of South Sudan to come out openly and declare the floods a national disaster,” Bishop Nyodho told ACI Africa in Juba and appealed against the silence around the life-threatening experience of the people of God within the territory of his diocese.

He said, “If we just keep it like that, it is going to affect the lives of thousands of people. Many people are already affected.”

The South Sudanese Bishop said many parts of his 238,000-square-kilometer diocese are covered by floods, “starting from Maban, parts of Akobo and Lou Nuer, and recently also parts of Pibor and Mayom in Unity state.”

“It is a big issue that we need to come to the help of our people really,” emphasized 46-year-old South Sudanese Prelate who has been Bishop since July 28.

The floods have affected Church institutions, including parish and chapel buildings, schools, and health facilities, whose structures are submerged in flood waters occasioned by heavy rains and seasonal rivers that have broken their banks.

“I just spoke to one of the priests in Bentiu and he told me that even some of the schools are closed now because many people who are displaced by flood are being accommodated in schools,” Bishop Nyodho told ACI Africa Friday, October 25 in Juba where he is participating in the ongoing Plenary Assembly of Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SCBC).

In Mayom, an area west of South Sudan’s Bentiu town, the church building remains standing because modern technology was used to bring up the place of worship, the Bishop narrated and added, “Some of the schools in the villages are already down.”

In addition, Bishop Nyodho regretted, “The parish priest in Mayom who is supposed to be in the area of ministry is stranded in Bentiu. He cannot go (to his parish) because there is no means of transport; the plane that used to go cannot access the area because the airstrip is flooded.”

“A Week ago, I was in Bentiu and I tried to talk to the government,” voicing the concern of the effects of the flooding to the people of God in the affected areas, Bishop Nyodho said and added in reference to the State government of Northern Liech whose capital is Bentiu, “The government also heeded to my call, they went to the media to alert the people about the floods around Bentiu.”

The effects of the floods have affected crops and livestock.

“The cows and the crops are destroyed, the cows have to be evacuated and the town of Mayom is full of those animals which might constitute another threat to human life, because life of people and animals is a problem by itself. It is not good, it is bad,” Bishop Nyodho testified.

Referencing South Sudanese caught in a protracted civil conflict, Bishop Nyodho lamented, “They are already fed up with the wars and another natural disaster is coming to them again. People tend to question God out of desperation, hopelessness and helplessness.”

In its October 25, 2019 update on floods South Sudan, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has described the phenomenon as “abnormally heavy seasonal flooding” that has affected an estimated 908,000 people across 32 counties in Upper Nile, Unity, Jonglei, Eastern Equatoria, Warrap, Northern Bahr el Ghazal, and Lakes.

“The rains are likely to continue at least until the end of November and put more people at risk. The heavy rains have hit areas that were already facing high humanitarian needs,” with some 3million people across half a dozen states in need of help before the flooding, the UN reports reads.

In the face of this challenge, particularly within the territory covered by his diocese, Bishop Nyodho is appealing for help to make the flooding and its effects known far and wide.

“As a Bishop, I call on the government of South Sudan and of Northern Liech state and other places, to come up and talk about this challenge of flooding; it is already something affecting the lives of the people,” he said referencing the local government and added, “People should not keep quiet, if you are unable to do it, come out and speak about it so that anybody of good will can intervene and help.”

He is seeking assistance from the wider international community to “help the people who are suffering in those places” devastated by the floods.

“I appeal to the international community, the people of South Sudan, and all people of goodwill to come to the rescue of the people of South Sudan with regard to natural disaster of floods,” Bishop Nyodho said.

“Even a few NGOs which were working there evacuated to Malakal and some even reached Juba. Where can the normal people who cannot be evacuated go? The NGOs cannot operate in water. What are we going to do with those people remaining behind?” the Bishop posed.

All the leaders seem to be doing is raise the alert of the floods, “that people should come and rescue the people around Mayom and other places that are affected in Maban, Akobo, Lou Nuer and Pibor,” Bishop Nyodho said expressing the widespread nature of the floods and the need for intervention from persons and entities with means.

The last time the region had flooding was in 2008, Bishop Nyodho said, citing a “priest who has been staying around Mayom.”

If floods continue, the Bishops thinks, the existent gloom will continue considering the people’s “crops are destroyed, their places are destroyed, they have already fled from some of the places.”

He adds, “We cannot even talk of the future because people are already suffering now. But the issue is how to come to the aid of these people and how to help them because if we wait for more days, the issue might worsen and people might lose lives.”

The South Sudanese Bishop expressed fear for much more saying, “With the water and all these things, sooner or later, the water borne diseases are going to come, and will affect both human, cattle and wildlife in that area. If their crops and their animals are destroyed, there will be no life to speak about.”

Like Job in the Sacred Scriptures who experienced suffering “undeservedly,” Bishop Nyodho said, people of God in his diocese of Malakal seem to interrogate God, thinking that “God has abandoned them.”

Still like Job, the South Sudanese Prelate said, the children of God in his diocese have kept the faith, striving “to persevere and pray and entrust their lives in the hands of the same God.”

“The church in the diocese of Malakal is still very vulnerable because of a lot of destruction of things during the war,” Bishop Nyodho said.

On a lasting solution to the challenges bedeviling the world’s newest country, Bishop Nyodho shared, “Everything depends on peace, if peace is implemented and materializes, it can help. With peace strategies can be made to control all these natural disasters, but now people are still in the war situation.”

He concluded, “We hope that the government is formed and peace implemented so that people go to another step of development, rebuilding what has been destroyed including these natural disasters. We pray that peace comes so that people can plan for the future otherwise people are just surviving on daily basis.”

While South Sudan’s president Salva Kiir and leader of a rebel grouping Riek Machar are expected to form a unity government as a realization of the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity on November 12, this hope for peace does not seem straightforward, according to a report.

The Security Council of the UN is insisting that “the South Sudan parties should form a unity government by 12 November with no delay,” Radio Tamazuj has reported.

ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
[email protected]