The United Nations refugee agency and its partners are scaling up efforts to reverse the “alarming” rates of malnutrition, disease and death in two camps hosting Sudanese refugees in South Sudan, even as they struggle to cope with logistical problems amid the rainy season.
There are some 170,000 Sudanese refugees currently in South Sudan, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), with more arriving from Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile states every day after fleeing conflict and food shortages.
Today UNHCR will begin distributing more soap, jerry cans and blankets to over 8,200 families with children under the age of five in the Yida camp in South Sudan’s Unity state, where health workers first saw a significant hike in death rates among refugee children in late June and early July.
“We are targeting the most vulnerable refugees in the camp to improve sanitization and minimize the risk of respiratory infections in these households. The distribution of other supplies such as plastic sheeting and buckets will continue throughout the month,” UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming told reporters in Geneva.
In the last three weeks, mortality and morbidity rates have stabilized and even decreased, as aid agencies took urgent action to address the root causes, she added.
UNHCR has so far dug two out of the six additional boreholes that will double the supply of potable water in Yida. Drainage systems are being improved at all seven water points to reduce the risk of contamination and water-borne diseases from standing water, and community latrines are being built to meet the needs of the growing population.
“Nonetheless, the challenges remain daunting in Yida,” said Ms. Fleming. “This remote border camp now hosts some 60,000 refugees from Sudan’s South Kordofan state, a four-fold increase since April. Children form more than a quarter of this population.”
She said that most refugees have been arriving in a very weak state – exhausted, dehydrated and malnourished. The rainy season has exacerbated the situation, bringing seasonal diseases to an already fragile population.
“The rains have also flooded nearby roads and turned Yida into a virtual island. Airlifts are now the only way to get life-saving aid into the camp,” Ms. Fleming noted.
UNHCR is now planning to airlift an additional 8,500 plastic sheets and 15,000 mosquito nets for immediate distribution to the new arrivals. Many are currently sleeping under poorly-thatched roofs, which increase the risk of respiratory illnesses and malaria particularly among children under five.
Meanwhile in Upper Nile state, one in three children is believed to be malnourished in Batil camp, UNHCR reported. Common health problems in this camp of 35,000 refugees include watery diarrhoea, respiratory tract infections and increasingly, malaria.
To address the high malnutrition rates, aid agencies started a blanket food distribution across the camp last Sunday, followed by a therapeutic supplementary feeding program to help children recover from moderate acute malnutrition. In addition, some 12 per cent of children under five are receiving treatment for severe acute malnutrition.
In total, Batil has five clinics for health and nutrition treatments, and 20 oral rehydration points throughout the camp. The health agencies have set up surveillance and response mechanisms for possible outbreaks of diarrhoeal and other diseases.
UNHCR noted that it has only received $47.5 million out of the $186 million it needs to meet the urgent needs of the Sudanese refugees in South Sudan.