Water will run out in just nine days for tens of thousands of refugees who have fled from Sudan into South Sudan, overwhelming the few camps in a parched stretch of Upper Nile state, the aid agency Doctors Without Borders said Tuesday.
Many of the exhausted refugees are dying from diarrhea, another threat exacerbated by the scarcity of clean water in the overcrowded camps, the aid agency said. Dozens of children are brought in suffering from malnutrition daily.
The onslaught of the rainy season, a seeming boon for dehydrated refugees, is worsening the situation, drowning out access roads to deliver treated water to those who need it.
"Food was scarce. Water was contaminated. I’ve seen people dying," Doctors Without Borders emergency coordinator Voltek Asztabski said. Aid agencies have provided food and water, but the water will soon run out for an estimated 20,000 people in temporary settlements strung along the road from the Sudanese border. "These people need to be relocated as soon as possible."
The sheer number of refugees flowing into South Sudan has surprised aid agencies, straining their resources. Two camps are already bursting. A third camp is being created, but aid agencies fear that even the new camp will not be enough to hold the flood of newly arrived refugees.
"A growing number of Sudanese have been seeking refuge in South Sudan, exceeding by far our original planning assumptions," U.N. refugee agency spokesperson Adrian Edwards said Tuesday. The U.N. agency had planned for 75,000 refugees in Upper Nile state; 105,000 people have crossed over, Edwards said. An estimated 35,000 refugees have streamed over the border in just a few weeks.
Refugees told the U.N. they had fled bombings and fighting between the Sudanese military and rebels. Food shortages may also be pushing more people than expected across the border. Others may have waited to make the journey after fighting erupted there last fall, too weak to travel at the time, the Enough Project said, a possible reason for the rush of refugees.
The U.N. refugee agency announced Tuesday it was sending in new airlifts of blankets, soap, plastic sheets and other supplies, along with equipment to help drill boreholes for clean water. However, getting those supplies to the refugees will take longer than usual because of the rains, it said.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Anima Hassan Omer cradles her granddaughter Khalifa on June 15 at a Doctors Without Borders field hospital in South Sudan's Upper Nile state. Credit: Hannah McNeish / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images