Rising from the depths: water security and fragility in South Sudan

In 2022, South Sudan was ranked as the world’s most vulnerable country to climate change and the one most lacking in coping capacity. South Sudan is also one of the world’s most politically fragile countries. Rising from the Depths explores opportunities and trade-offs for aligning South Sudan’s water-related investments and policies with its commitment to peace and its climate change adaptation needs. This report elevates water security as an issue critical for national development and stability—not just as a humanitarian need. With a focus on water security for people, production, and protection, the report shows that water insecurity is an existential threat to South Sudan. One in two South Sudanese live in areas exposed to moderate flood hazard; the country ranks seventh in the world for share of population exposed to river floods. Lack of access to safe drinking water supply and sanitation is also a core concern: more than 60 percent of the population use unimproved sources and 75 percent practice open defecation. Women and girls tend to be disproportionately impacted by these water-related threats. The report illustrates the negative implications of these challenges on health and nutrition, forced displacement, gender, and conflict. Yet, the challenges of water in South Sudan are also an opportunity. Rising from the Depths shows that South Sudan can harness the ubiquity of water as a tool to advance national development and stability. Priorities include strengthening nascent policy and institutional frameworks to guide water sector investments and ensure their sustainability, using a portfolio of infrastructure options to manage water resources, and addressing the country’s water supply and sanitation crisis. The identification, design, and implementation of investments should be guided by comprehensive feasibility assessments that include the investments' impact on the country’s rich biodiversity and social and conflict dynamics. Although infrastructure will be needed, it will not be enough. Water security in South Sudan will be achieved not solely by trying to control water and divert its flow but also by focusing on increasing community preparedness; delineating areas for water; and making productive use of water for household consumption, livelihoods, and development.