South Sudan: Fighting in Wau Displaces Thousands


Thousands of people are newly displaced due to fighting in Wau, South Sudan. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is providing medical care to displaced people in the area through mobile clinics. Dr. David Kahindi, MSF deputy medical coordinator in Wau, gave the following account by phone on Monday:

Just one week ago I drove past the empty land that surrounds the UN base in Wau, South Sudan. Now the same fields are flooded with thousands of people who have fled their homes in fear for their lives.  We know that tens of thousands more people are scattered across the surrounding area. Some are sheltering in a school, in a church and others are totally exposed to the elements in the forest.

On Friday last week, heavy fighting took place in Wau. We don’t yet know how many people were killed, but dead bodies are still lying in the streets. People started running and they still are—even when I am talking to you there are more people arriving at the UN base. They are mostly families with few belongings and urgently seek food, water, shelter and medical care. 

The people we are treating are much sicker than we would have thought, but it is the culmination of months of ongoing instability. We’ve seen gunshot wounds, women who have been raped. We’ve also seen people who just want to express what has happened to them. They are very distressed and have physical manifestations resulting of mental trauma. Today one man came to tell me that his brother had died in the fighting. He was trying to hide, but he was found and killed. He was asking us for help and it is clear that he is very depressed. 

We’ve also treated people who fled the local hospital. Earlier this year patients were pulled from their hospital beds, so it’s not surprising that they don’t feel safe. Today I treated a lady who had severe burns on her hands and abdomen that had gone septic. She was too scared to get back to the hospital. 

While new waves of people have been forced from their homes in this round of fighting, others have been living outside for months, too scared to return home. We’ve been here for a couple of months, running mobile clinics outside of the town trying to reach some of the most isolated people. Each week we treat cases of severe malaria—people are sleeping outside, under the trees, and don’t have access to bed nets. We also see cases of severe malnutrition every week—people have not been able to cultivate their crops because of the conflict, so food is scarce. People also have upper respiratory tract infections, skin infections and diarrhea—all of which are related to the conditions that they are forced to live in. 

It is possible that there are hundreds if not thousands of people who have been pushed even further away by the fighting. It is those people that I am really worried about—if they are sick and can’t find treatment. We will work tirelessly to try to reach those people in the coming days.

On Sunday and Monday MSF teams ran mobile clinics around the UN base, treating 160 and 174 people respectively. People were much sicker than we would have expected, the impact of months of ongoing insecurity. Main morbidities are malaria (due to the rainy season and limited access to bed nets), malnutrition (it is the traditional hunger gap period, but due to the conflict people have not been able to cultivate), diarrhea and upper respiratory tract infections. We also treated gunshot wounds and women who had been raped.   Yesterday we shipped in two plane loads of supplies including therapeutic food, rape kits and dressings. Today our teams have handed over our activities in the UN base so that we can move further south to find those people who have been pushed further away by the fighting. We will continue to respond to the situation as it evolves.