Once again, I was woken this morning by the sound of torrential rain, turning the roads to mush. But, this is Juba with many miles of paved roads that have been developed over the past few years. The roads in South Sudan’s capital account for the vast majority of paved roads in the entire country. On the other hand, the roads to the camps housing some 165,000 refugees fleeing violence in the Sudanese states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile are not paved and the mud is even worse.
When I traveled to visit Nuba refugees in Yida in January, I had to cross some of the roughest roads I have ever encountered–and this was during the dry season. One relief worker I spoke with, who has spent the better part of his life in emergency situations around the world, described Sudanese mud as the worst anywhere. A journalist in Juba talked about scores of trucks being stranded in the mud of a main road to neighboring Ethiopia.
The heavy rains are a mixed blessing. The seasonal deluge provides much needed water for crops during the critical planting season and replenishes water supplies that sustain the population. But, they also make it near impossible to transport aid by land or even air. My own travels to see the camps near the Sudanese border have already been delayed by heavy rains that washed out the dirt runway used by aid groups.
Perhaps more troubling, the rains bring the specter of waterborne disease. Medicines San Frontieres (MSF) has already warned about the risk of cholera and called the recent influx of refugees a full blown humanitarian crisis. MSF workers have witnessed people from Blue Nile in refugee camps dying every day of malnutrition, dehydration and diarrhea as they are forced to eat tree leaves and roots, and drink from puddles.
There are another estimated 40,000 internally displaced people still inside Blue Nile state suffering in the same conditions but with no access to aid and with the additional threat of daily bombings by the Sudanese army. Many are expected to flee to the already overflowing refugee camps in South Sudan in the coming weeks, despite the difficulty of travel as the rainy season reaches its peak.
While the rain is caused by mother nature, the food and refugee crisis is not. This is a man-made disaster, the result of a purposeful blockage of aid access and a ‘scorched earth policy’ by the forces of the Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir.
Ever the mixed blessing, the rainy season may at least provide for better crops for the next hunger cycle and make ground attacks more difficult. But, the rain for crops is pointless if Bashir’s forces continue bombing raids that prevent seeds from being planted and crops from being harvested. The reality for those living in South Kordofan and Blue Nile is that, even with the rains, the violence and the threat of disease will sadly and devastatingly continue until the international community takes action to end Bashir’s attacks.