Urgent Humanitarian Aid Needed For 80,000 Sudanese Refugees

Window of Opportunity to Provide Assistance Closing Fast

Driven by fighting in Sudan’s Blue Nile State, tens of thousands of refugees now in camps across the border in South Sudan need assistance before the looming rainy season renders the area impassable.

South Sudan 2012 © Robin Meldrum/MSF

Refugees in the Jamam camp in South Sudan, after having fled fighting and bombing in Blue Nile State across the border in Sudan.

Juba/Brussels/New York, March 14, 2012­ Only a short window of opportunity remains before the rainy season severely inhibits the urgent provision of humanitarian assistance to tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees in South Sudan, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warned today.

Since November 2011, 80,000 refugees have fled violence in Sudan’s Blue Nile State, seeking shelter in the Doro and Jamam refugee camps. The camps are located in a remote and barren region of South Sudan, where humanitarian organizations confront massive logistic challenges to access and assist refugees. At the onset of rains in late April, the region will be even more inaccessible, likely becoming a vast swamp with small islands of dry ground. Over the coming weeks, all organizations providing assistance in the camps must transition to an emergency footing, to ensure that refugees can survive the coming months, MSF said.

“The refugees are left almost completely reliant on humanitarian assistance because the area has scarce water and food,” said Julien Matter, MSF emergency coordinator. “The sheer number of refugees fleeing here has grown far beyond anything anyone anticipated. Providing the bare survival essentials now, and over the coming rainy season, will be a serious challenge in such a remote place,” he said.

Newly arriving refugees speak of ongoing bombing and fighting in Sudan’s Blue Nile State. While people have sought safety in the Doro and Jamam camps, they have encountered a harsh environment where their ability to survive is stretched to the breaking point.

Serious gaps in assistance mean that the most basic needs are not adequately covered. Less than eight liters of clean water per person per day is being provided, far below the recommended minimum standards of 15 to 20 liters per day in refugee camps. In its clinics, MSF witnesses the direct consequences of the lack of water; rising cases of diarrhea constitute one in four medical consultations.

While concentrating on medical aid, MSF is also pumping, treating, and distributing approximately 130,000 liters of water daily. MSF has started to extend its water supply system to increase coverage, but cannot meet all the current and future water needs in the camps. Other organizations must urgently accelerate their activities before the rains start. With lives and health at stake, essentials such as water, food, basic household items, and shelter must be urgently assured.

While donors and aid organizations are prioritizing development and longer-term assistance in South Sudan, emergency-response capacity is still extremely important in the newly independent nation. The refugee crisis highlights the continued and urgent need for donors and key aid organizations to maintain an effective emergency-response capacity to respond to the multiple acute crises that could erupt along the Sudan-South Sudan border or elsewhere in the country.

Since November of last year, MSF has been operating a substantial emergency response, focusing on providing medical care in the camps and in mobile clinics to villages along the border with Sudan, where several thousand more refugees are gathered. Fifty international staff work on the ground together with 180 locally recruited staff, and draw on 180 tons of medical, logistical and water-provision kits sent to the camps by air, river and road. In its field hospitals in the camps, MSF is providing outpatient consultations, inpatient medical care for more seriously sick patients, and therapeutic feeding and maternal health services. More than 2,500 consultations are performed each week and the team has vaccinated almost 30,000 children against measles.