Print options

October 05, 2012

S. Sudan Refugee Camp Braces for New Arrivals

by Michael Onyiego

Conditions at the Yida refugee camp in South Sudan have improved - after a wave of new arrivals, disease and death.  But as the rainy season ends, the camp is bracing for another wave of challenges that could overwhelm the humanitarian community.

Things are calmer now at the main hospital in South Sudan's Yida refugee camp.  The hospital is run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF).  Many beds in this makeshift tent hospital are still full, but according to MSF, the situation is finally manageable.
 
From mid-June through mid-July, a wave of disease hit the camps, sending mortality rates soaring.  This was coupled with a rush of new refugees, as many as 1,000 per day.  
 
Since then, the situation has improved.  At one of three Outreach Therapeutic Program centers, refugees come in for nutrition monitoring and evaluation.  Mothers receive special food rich in vitamins and nutrients to keep their children healthy.  The lines are still long, but MSF says the refugees are generally less malnourished.
 
"Now there is need," said Marie, a nurse with MSF in charge of this clinic.  "It's not so catastrophic like it was in July.  But it's very— it can change quickly.  If malaria comes, if cholera comes or if more people come, very quickly, it can be like in July."

The refugees at Yida come from the heart of Sudan's South Kordofan State.  Fighting broke out in June of last year between the government and the rebel SPLA-North, which was part of South Sudan's own rebel SPLA during the Sudanese civil war.
 
The camp now has more than 65,000 refugees who fled intense fighting and aerial bombardments by Sudanese warplanes.
 
New arrivals say fresh fighting will soon drive many more over the border into South Sudan.  Yusif al-Farik, 40, arrived with his daughter just days ago.  He says they left their home when Sudanese troops started shelling the area.

"They are just shooting randomly," said al-Farik.  "Maybe they are targeting an SPLA-North position.  But the shell doesn't hit that area, it hits the houses of the people there and wounds them."
 
The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) is now registering fewer than 200 new arrivals per day.  Officials say the rainy season cut off the roads from South Kordofan, preventing more from coming.
 
Those same rains have made it impossible to get food into the camps by road.  For the past few weeks, the World Food Program has been forced to deliver food by air.  The planes make six runs every day, dropping around 64 metric tons a day from the sky.
 
The drops have proved a critical lifeline for the refugees, and WFP says they should last until the end of the year.
 
But officials say the drops may need to be extended if more refugees arrive after the rainy season.  UNHCR says as many as 15,000 could come by the end of December.  If that happens, resources will be spread dangerously thin, and the Yida camp could face another crisis.