SOUTH Sudanese priest serving in Brisbane Fr Stephen Kumyangi is deeply saddened at the desperate plight of millions of people in his homeland.
The worst floods in more than 60 years have swept across South Sudan this year, submerging entire villages and separating larger cities into islands.
For months entire populations have been left vulnerable – another cruel blow in a young nation that has struggled with war and conflict, and a string of disasters.
“People have to fend for themselves,” Fr Kumyangi, who is the chaplain for Brisbane’s St Bakhita Sudanese Catholic community, said.
“Others die because of dire hunger, and the lack of cover at night means they are exposed to a lot of sickness and airborne diseases.”
Floodwaters have destroyed crops and worsened existing food shortages, and have also carried disease and contaminated drinking water.
South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit has declared a state of emergency, however national and state authorities appear overwhelmed by the enormity of the task at hand.
Fr Kumyangi said authorities had failed to mount even the most basic emergency response.
In Bor, the capital of Jonglei State and home to more than 300,000 people, large sections of the city are completely submerged.
“It is flat ground, and in one area of Bor there are no hospitals and no rescue expedition at all,” Fr Kumyangi said.
In another flood-hit region Western Equatoria, Fr Kumyangi said the government had “never, never paid any attention”.
Save the Children estimates international aid has so far contributed less than 30 per cent of the US$82 million needed to respond to the crisis.
“Almost the entire area along the river Nile has been affected,” Save the Children’s South Sudan country director Rama Hansraj told SBS.
“Small-scale businesses, on which the most vulnerable people depend, have been decimated, on top of COVID-19 and ongoing conflict.
“It’s important for the entire world to take notice of how dire the situation is in South Sudan.”
Fr Kumyangi said conditions in South Sudan were “getting worse every day”, with little defence against COVID-19 and the economy in crisis.
“People are just left to the mercy of God,” he said.
“The banks have no money. Some people have told me that they are now six months without receiving salaries.
“When I compare it with Australia and people talk of a fortnight (without pay), then you can see the gravity of the problem in which they are in.”
Fr Kumyangi said the only support many Sudanese families received was money regularly sent from relatives abroad, including Australia – and typically about $100 to $200 out of a weekly salary.
In 2015, Fr Kumyangi, a priest for 23 years, was invited to leave his diocese in South Sudan’s Western Equatoria State – home to about one million Catholics – to come to Brisbane archdiocese and become chaplain to about 1500 South Sudanese Catholics.
They represent just a sprinkling of the four million displaced South Sudanese who have fled hunger, oppression and war.
Despite hardships that he has personally encountered as a priest in South Sudan, Fr Kumyangi said his plan was to one day return home.
“My hope is if peace really comes to South Sudan that will be an immediate plan to go back,” he said.