July 08, 2013

More than 20,000 people are largely cut off from aid in South Sudan's Northern Bahr el Ghazal state after fleeing violence in the disputed border region with Sudan's South Darfur state.



South Sudan 2013 © Anna Surinyach/MSF

People displaced by violence take shelter in a camp in Northern Bahr el Ghazal state.

NEW YORK, JULY 8, 2013—More than 20,000 people are largely cut off from aid in South Sudan's Northern Bahr el Ghazal state after fleeing violence in the disputed border region with Sudan's South Darfur state, the international medical organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.

The displaced people are mainly living in 11 makeshift camps scattered across isolated parts of Northern Bahr el Ghazal, although some have been taken in by host communities. Food and drinking water are in short supply and the people in the camps are living in substandard conditions. With no specific settlements assigned to them, many people have had to move several times. MSF has launched an emergency response to assist both the displaced people and the host communities.

"When we first arrived in February, many people were actually living in the bush,” said Shaun Lummis, MSF field coordinator in Northern Bahr el Ghazal. “Thousands of displaced people have arrived in this region but there has been very little action taken to serve their needs."

Recent months have seen the arrival of waves of displaced people fleeing violence along the river known as the Kiir, or Bahr al Arab in the disputed border region. The displaced come from South Darfur as well as from the South Sudanese side of the border. They are receiving minimal humanitarian assistance due to the remoteness of the region and confusion by humanitarian agencies over whether they should be considered internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, or returnees.

MSF has set up mobile clinics and is training teams of community-based health care workers to help combat diarrhea, malaria, and malnutrition, the three leading causes of death among the population. MSF is also running a basic health care clinic near the town of Pamat, focused on children under five and pregnant women.

Since the start of the process which culminated in South Sudan's independence two years ago, many people have returned to the border region for a combination of social, economic, and security-related reasons. Yet recent displacements have disrupted this process.

"In our town on the Kiir River we could cultivate as much as we wanted," said Anthilio Akon, a community leader in the camp of Ajok Wol. There is no plastic sheeting for shelters in the camp, despite the imminent rainy season. "Here we only try to survive," he said.

MSF has been working in the region that today constitutes the Republic of South Sudan since 1983. MSF is working in six out of South Sudan's 10 states, responding to emergencies such as large-scale displacements of people, influxes of refugees, malnutrition crises and outbreaks of malaria and kala azar, in addition to providing basic and specialized health care services.