15 Jun 2012

South Sudan, a perfect storm?

Channel 4 News Head of Foreign News Ben de Pear blogs on the “perfect storm” of war, geography and the rainy season in crisis-hit South Sudan.

It’s been building all year but Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) are saying that the perfect storm of war, geography and Southern Sudan’s rainy season have reached crisis point, writes Channel 4 News Head of Foreign News Ben de Pear.

as the United Nations have been forced to turn away 35,000 newly-arrived refugees in Southern Sudan – with a reported 15,000 still on their way.

For months civilians fleeing aerial bombardment and ethnic cleansing by government troops in the Nuba mountains of Sudan’s Blue Nile State have been crossing the border into the remote Maban region of South Sudan. They were following the 70,000 people who had already fled to the area and were in registered camps run by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

With access limited to the area and a highly-dangerous route now cut off by floodwaters, it is very difficult to get relief into camps that were already at breaking point, struggling to provide basic food, water and shelter to the inhabitants. With no way to cope with the new influx, UN officials had to shut the camps to new arrivals.

This means that 35,000 people are stuck in the open with no shelter, food or water. They are forced to seek shade from the sun and shelter from the heavy rainy season downpours under bushes and scrubby trees, without even plastic sheeting to keep the rain off at night.

At one of the main gathering points, Rum/km 43, the water has run out; there are an estimated 15,000 refugees there. People have been reduced to drinking out of dirty puddles and have no food. The UNHCR weren’t able to move people in time, and they have had to walk 25km in temperatures of nearly 40 degrees to find clean water. Many people reportedly died on the way.

The people in the area have now been on the move for between four-six weeks. MSF says it is providing emergency healthcare at the gathering points, but many people have already died on the long march. MSF says it is seeing large numbers of malnourished kids, many of whom have reached the severe malnutrition stage. At this stage children are at risk of permanent brain damage or death.

Aid agencies now say they are extremely worried as the situation can only get a lot worse. MSF is providing the only clean water people are getting, but can only give them three litres per person, per day. Unless another agency steps in, this water supply will run out in 10 days time.

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