GENEVA - United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) says the situation for tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees in South Sudan is now among the most critical faced by refugees anywhere in the world. The UNHCR warns its life-saving operations are at risk because funding to assist an ever-growing refugee population has dried up.
The UNHCR is caring for 162,500 Sudanese refugees in South Sudan and 36,500 in Ethiopia. The agency says it expects this number to grow to 235,000 by the end of the year. It has appealed for nearly $220 million to assist these people. But, as of now, it has received only about one-fifth of that total.
The UNHCR says the refugee population in Ethiopia appears to have stabilized, whereas the situation in South Sudan is worsening by the day. It says the number of people fleeing fighting and hunger in Sudan continues to grow. In recent weeks, it reports there has been a sharp surge of new refugees arriving in the South's Upper Nile State. And, people continue to come at a rate of about 1,000 a day.
The UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards says many of the refugees are in desperate condition when they arrive. He says the number of people dying in the refugee camps from problems related to their ordeal is growing.
"What you have when you have a population arriving weakened by not having eaten, having survived on…or leaves in some instances," Edwards told VOA. "People are severely malnourished. You have…risks of diarrhea, when you have diarrhea, the water shortages become a much more acute concern. So, it really is a very worrying situation. Clearly there is concern about the possibility of other illnesses and diseases breaking out among this population."
The rainy season has begun in South Sudan and this poses huge problems for aid agencies trying to transport aid over flooded roads. The UNHCR began an emergency airlift of basic relief supplies a week ago.
The most critical need is for clean water. The UNHCR says water shortages present a life-threatening risk for the refugees. In an effort to increase the vital water supply, the agency has been flying in heavy equipment to drill boreholes.
Edwards says this has been successful in increasing water supplies in some areas.
"The problem is that people are spread out in different locations," said Edwards. "Some of the locations where most of the people are now arriving do not have that same level of water. So, this is a really critical situation. Refugees are fleeing from one nightmare very much into another. And, we need funds to help us deal with this."
Edwards says the contributions the UNHCR has received for South Sudan are exhausted. If more contributions fail to arrive, he says the agency will be forced to take money from other humanitarian operations elsewhere in the world. He says other refugee communities will have to make do with less, so the life-saving needs of refugees in South Sudan can be met.