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April 29, 2014

Aid Rushed to South Sudanese Before Rains Cut Off Roads

by Lisa Schlein

The U.N. refugee agency [UNHCR] says it is racing to provide essential supplies for hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese displaced by war before rains make roads impassable.

Nearly 1 million South Sudanese have become internally displaced since fighting between government and opposition forces broke out four months ago. They are spread across about 175 makeshift and organized sites, with the largest number in Upper Nile state.

UNHCR spokeswoman Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba described conditions in most of these sites as appalling. She said they lack water and sanitation, and she blamed the terrible conditions on underfunding and lack of security.

“It is not everywhere that we can access all the time," said Lejeune-Kaba. "The lines of fighting move constantly. The displaced themselves move constantly, so even if they receive assistance in one place and they are forced again to flee because of new fighting, they find themselves with nothing. It is overcrowded for most of them, including, of course, at the U.N. bases. The sites are not proper at all.”  

Lejeune-Kaba said the UNHCR is airlifting more relief supplies Tuesday from Dubai to the capital Juba for 100,000 displaced people. She said the blankets, sleeping mats, water buckets and other relief items will be distributed mainly in Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei states.  

The UNHCR also is assisting thousands of South Sudanese civilians who have fled to Sudan in search of asylum. Lejeune-Kaba told VOA the agency’s priority is to relocate 23,000 South Sudanese in White Nile State away from where they are staying presently.

“We have had visits there to the relocation areas and it seems like people will be willing to go. It is important because very soon we will not be able to access the Kilo 10 site, so most likely people will ... move and relocate,” she said.

Lejeune-Kaba said it already is raining in White Nile State, but the heaviest rains usually begin in May. Meanwhile, the UNHCR and its partners also are providing aid to tens of thousands of South Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia.

She says aid agencies are expanding accommodation for nearly 100,000 refugees in the Gambella region in the west of the country. She said land is being cleared for a fifth camp near Kule for up to 30,000 people. She said the camp is expected to open early next month.