When the floods arrive The women of Kohliyat persevere

Ard Al Sham came to the village of Kohliyat, South Kordofan, Sudan, with her husband and five children, hoping for a better life after long years of displacement. But she and her family now lack access to essential services and live in fear of the rain.  

Kohliyat is a 20-minute drive from the nearest city, Kadugli. The village is not accessible by public transport. It takes the villagers more than an hour to walk to Kadugli for the nearest market, hospital, or school.

During the rainy season, Kohliyat is cut-off by a flooded ditch. There is no way in or out except for swimming through the submerged channel surrounding the villages. If one is lucky enough to have a bike, it must be carried on the head while swimming to get to the other side. During the rainy season, it takes over two hours to walk to Kadugli. The rainy season also comes with diseases; stagnant water attracts all kinds of illnesses, like cholera and malaria.

In 2011, the conflict between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (Abdulaziz Al Hilu faction) and the Sudanese government escalated in South Kordofan. By 2014, the war had forced 800,000 people to flee, within the state and across the country, including to the capital city Khartoum. Those who could not escape hid for years in ditches under the mountains, with the looming fear of being killed. 

Following the 2020 ceasefire agreement between the Transitional Government of Sudan and the SPLM-N, the government declared some parts of South Kordofan to be “stabilised” and encouraged displaced communities to go home. Thousands of families came to settle in Kohliyat, with the support of the authorities. Although it was not their ancestral lands, it was the closest they could get to home.

Two years later, their situation remains the same. They remain very vulnerable in Kohliyat, and it has been difficult to rebuild a life. 

The families came to find empty land. The only school had been robbed of its doors and windows. It was abandoned, chipped away by time. This meant that the children of Kohliyat now had no access to basic education. For their homes, they could only build Rakubas – makeshift shelters made from bamboo sticks and other local materials. And every year, the rain destroys them.

Most families in Kohliyat, like Ard Al Sham’s, depend on agriculture. Over the years, people in Kohliyat have developed an ambivalent relationship with the rain. When the rain is late, they hold a group prayer for it to come, so they can finally start farming and reaping their crops. And when the rain comes, they sing and dance in celebration.

Ard Al Sham realised she needed to find another way to support her family between rainy seasons. She first decided to sell nibbles, then turned to the business of being a “Sit-Chai.” She is the only woman in Kohliyat with her own business.  

“Sit-Chai,” which translates as tea lady, is a nation-wide phenomenon in Sudan. Thousands of women in Sudan sit on stools, under the shade of a tree, an abandoned building, or under a tarp. With a box, a torch, a few cups, and the ingredients for coffee or tea, the women will place around some plastic chairs and tables for the customers. The drinks the Sit-Chai ladies make are the cheapest, so most people will go there daily. It’s the most popular activity for socialising. 

So, Ard Al Sham started making tea to accompany the nibbles tray beside her. After a while, she could finally afford her equipment and chairs. But the economic crisis in Sudan continued to spiral, and the Sudanese currency continued to crash. The equipment became too expensive for Ard Al Sham to afford, and the rain made it even harder for her to reach the market. 

Unfortunately, the payback from being a Sit-Chai is very low. Just like Ard Al Sham, the women who open these small outdoor shops are mostly displaced or live on the outskirts of cities and towns. There has been a heavy crackdown from the authorities on these ladies as they are now required to pay for licenses and only use equipment rented from regulated sources. All of which are things they cannot afford. 

In early May this year, the rainy season started with a hard-hitting rainstorm on Kohliyat. Homes were damaged, families lost their household belongings, people were displaced, and Ard Al Sham had to put a long pause on her business.  

Thanks to the European Union, the Giving Hope For Them (GHFT) was able to dispatch an Emergency Response Team to Kohliyat. Initially the water surrounded Kohliyat so much that it was impossible for the GHFT team to enter. When they finally found the chance to go inside, the team conducted a needs assessment for the people in Kohliyat. Residents were in dire need of food, latrines, water points, and access to healthcare.

With funding from the European Union, the GHFT team was able to support 155 flood-affected families in Kohliyat by giving cash so that they could buy what they needed most. We then focussed our attention on constructing emergency latrines, rehabilitating water pumps, distributing soap and promoting hygiene among the community.

After a shock, GHFT dispatches an emergency field team to the affected areas as early as possible to survey the needs and lead or contribute to a rapid response. This can include cash, food, shelter, non-food items, and essential items, to help families cover their basic needs for two months until a longer-term solution can be found, in coordination with other humanitarian partners.

The flooding in South Kordofan coincides with the precarious lean season. This is the period when household food stock has depleted and the next harvest has yet to begin. Families mostly use the cash distributed by GHFT to purchase food, followed by buying shelter materials to build back their Rakubas. Assistance is key to meeting families’ basic needs.

But hope for a better future comes from the women of Kohliyat themselves. Throughout the rainy season – while people are trapped inside their village – they never stop persevering and find ways to feed their families. Many women have started cultivating in front of their shelters after cleaning the wreckage.

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