UNHCR alarm on health risks for refugees in South Sudan

Briefing Notes, 10 July 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 10 July 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Conditions in South Sudan's refugee camps have continued to worsen over the past few days under the strain of continuing large refugee inflows and flooding from torrential rains. The health situation has at this point become UNHCR's priority concern, and we are watching closely for possible outbreaks of disease.

Health actors and the UN refugee agency are undertaking a mass health screening to obtain better data on the actual mortality rates and vaccination coverage rates across all refugee sites in South Sudan's Upper Nile and Unity States. These surveys are still not complete. In light of the weak state of the population on arrival, large scale programmes are required to immediately address their needs and prevent people's health from deteriorating further. In remote places such as the borders of Unity and Upper Nile states, the challenge for us is equaled by very few other situations in the world. Massive health outreach and intensive hygiene and sanitation programmes are needed to mitigate the threats to the health of refugees.

In Yida settlement close to the Southern Kordofan border, in Unity state, new arrivals have doubled the refugee population since early May to close to 60,000 persons. While UNHCR is conducting verification of numbers, congestion in a limited strip of land already cut-off by rains creates a further health challenge. Last week saw a sharp increase of bloody diarrhea cases has been reported by health actors working there. To address this and secure clean and sufficient drinking water, more wells are being drilled and additional drilling teams brought to the scene. UNHCR is also distributing this week thousands of jerry cans and buckets to all families with children under five. Additional amounts of chlorine are being used at water points. Efforts are also under way by all actors to increase awareness among the mostly young refugee population about hygiene, health and nutrition risks.

The most critical challenge for us and all partners working there is to provide enough clean water for all refugees and prevent diseases in this remote and fragile part of South Sudan.

In Maban county of Upper Nile State, hosting now over 110,000 refugees from Blue Nile State in Sudan water has also been a critical challenge. Aid agencies have progressed in securing water through drilling and trucking to refugee sites. Four drilling rigs are operational and drilling efforts are continuing while most of the refugee population from Jammam is being relocated to other sites because of clean water shortages there combined with localized flooding. While refugees were initially reluctant to move, community mobilization efforts are producing positive results. UNHCR has worked and continues to work with local authorities to identify more sites with reliable water sources to ease pressure on existing refugee settlements and accommodate expected new arrivals. Due to torrential rains and flooding the few existing roads are largely impassable, slowing the delivery of assistance. Moving this life-saving equipment by helicopter is also being considered, but a lack of funds is hampering this effort.

Since last December UNHCR has delivered emergency supplies to South Sudan by air and by road. This includes 16,400 family tents, and essential relief items for 130,000 people including plastic sheets, sleeping mats, blankets, mosquito nets, jerry cans and kitchen sets.

UNHCR's revised appeal for Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia and South Sudan amounts to US$ 219.9 million. By beginning of July the UN refugee agency has received US$45.9 million (US$11.6 million for Ethiopia and US$33.6 million for South Sudan), representing less than 21 per cent of estimated needs.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Juba: Terry Ongaro on mobile: +211 927 770 040
  • In Geneva: Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 91 20
  • Andrej Mahecic on mobile +41 79 200 7617
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Public Health

The health of refugees and other displaced people is a priority for UNHCR.

Health crisis in South Sudan

There are roughly 105,000 refugees in South Sudan's Maban County. Many are at serious health risk. UNHCR and its partners are working vigorously to prevent and contain the outbreak of malaria and several water-borne diseases.

Most of the refugees, especially children and the elderly, arrived at the camps in a weakened condition. The on-going rains tend to make things worse, as puddles become incubation areas for malaria-bearing mosquitoes. Moderately malnourished children and elderly can easily become severely malnourished if they catch so much as a cold.

The problems are hardest felt in Maban County's Yusuf Batil camp, where as many as 15 per cent of the children under 5 are severely malnourished.

UNHCR and its partners are doing everything possible to prevent and combat illness. In Yusuf Batil camp, 200 community health workers go from home to home looking educating refugees about basic hygene such as hand washing and identifying ill people as they go. Such nutritional foods as Plumpy'nut are being supplied to children who need them. A hospital dedicated to the treatment of cholera has been established. Mosquito nets have been distributed throughout the camps in order to prevent malaria.

Health crisis in South Sudan

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More than 180,000 Sudanese refugees have fled violence in Sudan's Darfur region, crossing the border to the remote desert of eastern Chad.

It is one of the most inhospitable environments UNHCR has ever had to work in. Vast distances, extremely poor road conditions, scorching daytime temperatures, sandstorms, the scarcity of vegetation and firewood, and severe shortages of drinkable water have been major challenges since the beginning of the operation. Now, heavy seasonal rains are falling, cutting off the few usable roads, flooding areas where refugees had set up makeshift shelters, and delaying the delivery of relief supplies.

Despite the enormous environmental challenges, UNHCR has so far managed to establish nine camps and relocate the vast majority of the refugees who are willing to move from the volatile border.

Battling the Elements in Chad

Southerners on the move before Sudanese vote

Ahead of South Sudan's landmark January 9, 2011 referendum on independence, tens of thousands of southern Sudanese in the North packed their belongings and made the long trek south. UNHCR set up way stations at key points along the route to provide food and shelter to the travellers during their arduous journey. Several reports of rapes and attacks on travellers reinforced the need for these reception centres, where women, children and people living with disabilities can spend the night. UNHCR has made contingency plans in the event of mass displacement after the vote, including the stockpiling of shelter and basic provisions for up to 50,000 people.

Southerners on the move before Sudanese vote

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