NEW YORK/JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN—Preventable diseases and severe malnutrition are causing alarming numbers of deaths among tens of thousands of people taking refuge at a United Nations base in South Sudan, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warned today.
An estimated 45,000 displaced persons are living at the UN base in Bentiu, Unity State. The number of people seeking protection there increased nearly tenfold over the last two months because of relentless violence. Medical reports indicate that at least three children under age five are dying per day within the Protection of Civilians area in the base. Most deaths are due to acute diarrhea, pneumonia, and malnutrition, all linked to harsh living conditions.
"People came here for safety but they are facing life-threatening conditions inside the camps," said Nora Echaibi, medical team leader of the MSF hospital at the base. "It is rapidly becoming catastrophic."
As of mid-June, wells and tanker trucks were supplying only 4.4 liters of clean water per person per day, far below the international standard of 15 liters. Residents are forced to drink from puddles contaminated by human waste. On average, there is only one working latrine for every 241 people.
Heavy rains are exacerbating the already grim situation. Medical facilities and other areas where aid organizations provide services have been flooded. Flooding has also left the area without enough clean water or sanitation facilities and is making it very difficult for trucks to deliver water.
All materials must be transported by plane at high cost. MSF is calling for a rapid increase in water supplies, hygiene promotion activities, and latrine construction.
"While it is a very challenging environment, more aid is needed to avert a catastrophe,”said Raphael Gorgeu, MSF country director in South Sudan. “MSF is increasing its hospital capacities in the camp and is sending additional emergency medical teams to try to tackle the situation. We call on aid organizations to do everything they can to improve conditions here, especially water and sanitation. We also call on armed groups to allow aid to travel freely on the roads."
Displaced people continue to arrive each day from the surrounding region in very bad condition, often after walking long distances or surviving lengthy periods in the bush without assistance.
Concerns are mounting over the prospect of further disease outbreaks, including cholera, hepatitis, and malaria.
MSF operates a 90-bed hospital in the Bentiu Protection of Civilians site. It admitted 202 patients between May 17 and June 9 and performed 70 major surgical procedures.