In all conditions, on all terrains: Reaching South Sudanese communities cut off by floods

FAO’s Musa Kenyi uses his renowned expertise in heavy duty vehicles to help his fellow citizens tackle the effects of climate change

With vast experience in heavy duty vehicles, FAO staff member Musa Kenyi has become one of the few specialized mechanics and drivers of ATVs, trucks and boats in all of South Sudan. This expertise has been vital to the missions to reach communities isolated by flooding. ©FAO/Mayak Akuot


“I escaped to save myself, now I am saving others,” says Musa Kenyi, a highly skilled senior mechanic and driver with FAO in South Sudan. But All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) are his specialty and passion, and he is known throughout the country for this expertise.

This desire for driving large vehicles and learning how to fix them developed during Musa’s time in Malawi, after he fled his country (then known only as Sudan) due to the civil war.

He joined his sister in Lilongwe, Malawi to begin a new life, and there his passion for all-things mechanics was unleashed. After attending trainings at a technical centre and acquiring some hands-on experience, Musa became a well-versed mechanic and easily found a job in a transportation company that moved goods all over sub-Saharan Africa.

“My life was on the road,” Musa recalls. “I crossed borders almost every day with my truck. From Lilongwe to Dar-es-Salaam, to Kigali, to Johannesburg and back to Lilongwe.” In these daily travels, Musa drove through the most adverse terrains and weather conditions in Africa.

Musa then moved to Cape Town for a better job, and there he learnt to drive highly digitalized ATVs. Musa became enthralled with the ins and outs of these vehicles.

When South Sudan became independent, he, like many others, decided to return to use his skills for his motherland.

Musa became acquainted with FAO in 2012. After some collaboration, he joined the Organization in 2017 as a senior mechanic and driver of heavy duty trucks. Thanks to the unique experience he had acquired, Musa soon became one of the few specialized mechanics of heavy duty trucks and ATVs in all of South Sudan, lending his skills to many of the agencies working in the area.

Increasing water levels due to heavy rainfall have isolated communities in South Sudan. Over the years, the magnitude and scale of flooding has drastically increased as a result of climate change. ©FAO/Mayak Akuot

Climate change’s drastic effects

In the past two years, increasing water levels due to heavy rainfall have isolated communities in Jonglei, Northern Bahr el-Ghazal, Upper Nile and Lakes. South Sudan, which has always struggled with flooding, now faces these disasters at increasing magnitude and scale. Between July and November 2020, around 1 034 000 people were affected by floods; this is 126 000 more people affected than the same period in 2019.

Intense and prolonged rainfall, overwhelming soil infiltration and limited drainage capacities have meant that water levels have been rising high enough to destroy households and livelihoods, forcing communities to migrate, exposing them to insecurity and cutting them off from aid.

This is when FAO turned to Musa’s expertise with ATVs.

Under FAO’s Emergency Livelihood Response Programme in South Sudan, ATVs are used for rapid response missions in hard-to-reach locations including flooded areas. 

“I’ve never seen rains of such an intensity like in the past few years,” says Manyok Maluak, a villager in Jarwong. While fleeing towards a nearby area where they could temporarily resettle, Manyok had to help others to survive: “I am strong enough and carried as many of my weaker villagers as I could on my shoulders, but some people died because they didn’t have anyone who could help them."

Manyok reinvented himself from a farmer into a fisherman after the water submerged everything he owned, including his house and plot of crops and vegetables.

In mid-August 2021, Musa led an ATV convoy to Bor North in Jonglei to distribute fishing kits to two communities in Jarwong and Malual Chaat villages where houses, crops and belongings had been swept away by the torrential rains.

With up to 60 percent of the country cut-off from conventional aid during the rainy season, these off-road amphibious vehicles can manoeuvre in any terrain, even in water or swamps, and can climb over most obstacles.

Each convoy of two fully-loaded ATVs can carry up to 1.6 metric tons of fishing equipment, vegetable kits and essential farming tools to support around 900 people and help them regain self-sufficiency, food security and livelihoods.

“Last year, when we first arrived in Panyagor, in Twic North, after one-and-a-half-day long drive, people escaped at seeing the ATVs. But soon after, they understood we were there to help them,” recalls Musa when he first arrived with the convoy in Jonglei.

“I was so proud that we were the first to provide aid to people in such desperate need. That’s why I’m passionate about my job. I wouldn’t change it with any other.”  

With ten logistic warehouses across the country and a fleet of three ATVs, five trucks and eight boats, FAO has the capacity to assist vulnerable communities in the most remote areas of South Sudan.

As part of its Emergency Livelihood Response Programme in South Sudan, FAO uses ATVs for rapid response missions in hard-to-reach locations including flooded areas. These vehicles can manoeuvre any terrain, even water or swamps. ©FAO/Mayak Akuot

Passing on the knowledge

Musa is passing on his knowledge of mechanics and the use of ATVs, boats and trucks to other FAO team members, like Rose Muja.

Rose, who has worked as a driver with FAO since 2019, is excited to learn how to drive ATVs. “It is challenging to be a woman and a driver, but not impossible,” says Rose. “My family is proud of me, and I’m now a role model for other women in my community who thought that driving is a job only for men. My little niece wants to follow my steps.”

The work of Musa, Rose and many other drivers of FAO and its partner organizations in South Sudan has been vital to reaching communities otherwise cut off from the world. These operations have ensured that aid continues to reach the most vulnerable in a country where climate change is not the only crisis.

In 2020, FAO has reached over 6 million food insecure people through its emergency programme*.

As weather becomes more extreme and floods a common occurrence, FAO is working with communities to be better prepared for these and other climatic shocks, increasing their resilience to limit the humanitarian consequences of climate change.

On World Humanitarian Day, we applaud Musa, Rose and the many others worldwide working to save lives and livelihoods, ensuring food security and a better future for the communities hardest hit by the devastating effects of our changing climate. If we all join #TheHumanRace against climate change, it is a race we can win.

*FAO’s emergency work in South Sudan is funded by the African Development Bank, the Governments of Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom (UK Aid), the United States (USAID), the South Sudan Humanitarian Fund and the United Nations Central Emergency Fund (CERF).

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2. Zero hunger, 10. Reduced inequalities, 13. Climate action