More than 100,000 people fleeing violence in Sudan have sought shelter in refugee camps in neighboring South Sudan’s Maban region. According to Doctors Without Borders emergency coordinator John Tzanos, the refugees face an increasingly dire situation in the camps, with many falling ill and dying.
“We recently conducted a nutritional survey and we found that almost a third of the population under five is malnourished and, obviously, the youngest children are in an extremely vulnerable state,” he said. “The under-two year olds, almost half of them are malnourished.”
Most of the refugees have crossed from Sudan to escape violence in the states of Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan. Sudan’s armed forces have been fighting rebels in both states since last year.
The World Food Program plans to begin airdropping 2,000 metric tons of food to Maban County beginning in mid-August, and about 3,000 metric tons of food to the Yida refugee camp.
While Tzanos said more food “will help a lot,” he cautioned the malnutrition among the refugees is more complicated than a simple lack of food. “One of our main concerns is hand washing and sanitation,” he said. “We need to have enough water; we need to have enough hand washing points, latrines in order to break the cycle of disease.” He said diarrhea and respiratory infections are compounding the effects of malnutrition, especially for the camp’s children, elderly and pregnant women.
Late last week, Sudan and South Sudan signed a new agreement over oil transit fees. Tzanos said Doctors Without Borders does not have access to the Blue Nile State region, where the fighting is taking place, and could not comment on whether that might stem the fighting in the region and flow of refugees.
“What we would like to see is to have the swift acceptance of humanitarian assistance and assessment in the southern Sudan region,” he said.