The lives of tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees in South Sudan depend on the scaling up of humanitarian aid now, warns the international medical organisation Médecins Sans Frontières MSF (Doctors Without Borders). The scale up must take place in the short and rapidly closing window of opportunity before the rainy season starts mid-late April.
Since last November, 80,000 refugees from Sudan’s Blue Nile State have sought refuge in two camps, Doro and Jamam, located in a remote and barren region of South Sudan. New arrivals tell of ongoing bombing and fighting in Sudan’s Blue Nile State. They have sought a safer place but they have found a harsh environment where their ability to survive is stretched to breaking point. Humanitarian organisations are confronting massive challenges in assisting them, and the challenges will only become greater.
“These refugees are left almost completely reliant on humanitarian assistance because water and food are scarce in this area,” says Julien Matter, MSF’s emergency coordinator. ”The numbers of refugees fleeing to this area has grown far beyond anything anyone anticipated — and in such a remote place, providing the bare essentials now, and through the coming rainy season, will be a serious challenge.”
When rains start in late April, the region will become more inaccessible, likely becoming a vast swamp with small islands of dry ground. All organisations providing assistance in the camps must focus on an emergency push during the coming weeks to ensure that refugees can survive the coming months.
Even now, serious gaps in assistance mean that refugees’ most basic needs are not yet adequately covered. People are provided with less than 8 litres of clean water per person, far below the recommended minimum standards for refugee camps (15-20 litres per day).
In its clinics, MSF is witnessing the consequences of the lack of water, with cases of diarrhoea rising continuously, now constituting a quarter all consultations. With the refugees’ lives at stake, they must get essentials – water, food, household items and shelter – before the rains start.
MSF is pumping, treating and distributing around 130,000 litres of water daily. We have been scaling up water provision but cannot meet the current needs and the foreseen challenges in these camps alone. Other organisations working in this field must also scale up as a matter of urgency before the rains start.
Since November last year, MSF has been responding to the emergency, providing medical care in camps and villages along the border with Sudan, where several thousand more refugees are gathered. In field hospitals in the camps, MSF is providing out-patient consultations, in-patient medical care, therapeutic feeding and maternal health services. More than 2,500 consultations are performed each week, and the team has vaccinated almost 30,000 children against measles. MSF has dispatched over 200 staff and 180 tonnes of medical, logistical and water provision supplies to the camps by air, river and road.
While donors and aid organisations are prioritising development and longer-term assistance, emergency-response capacity is still extremely important in the newly independent South Sudan. This crisis highlights the urgent need for donors and key aid organisations to ensure that they are able to respond to the multiple acute crises that could erupt along the Sudan – South Sudan border or elsewhere in the country.