Rainy season creates new risks for a dire humanitarian situation in Aburoc
Humanitarian agencies are intensifying their efforts to provide clean drinking water to thousands of civilians fleeing fierce fighting in the Upper Nile region of South Sudan as the threat of a cholera outbreak looms.
Tens of thousands of civilians abandoned their homes to seek shelter in Aburoc last month as violent clashes between Government and Opposition forces intensified in the north of the country. They made the long journey from towns like Kodok, Tonga, Wau Shilluk and Orinyi in intense heat without adequate food, water or shelter with many arriving suffering from severe malnutrition and dehydration.
Humanitarian organisations provided urgent assistance but were forced to withdraw last month when fighting again broke out. The fresh bout of violence follows the country’s descent into a deep political and security crisis in December 2013 when fighting broke out in the capital and quickly spread throughout the newly independent nation.
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) responded to the crisis in Aburoc by urgently deploying peacekeepers to provide protection so that humanitarian workers could resume the aid effort.
On a visit to Aburoc, Humanitarian Coordinator [for South Sudan] and UNMISS Deputy Representative of the Secretary-General, Eugene Owusu, said the presence of peacekeepers had given humanitarian workers the confidence they needed to resume operations and provided the local community with a sense of security.
However, he said UNMISS could not remain in the area indefinitely given the logistical problems that will be created by the onset of heavy rain.
“We will continue to review our presence based on the operational constraints that we do face and based on the circumstances on the ground.”
Only a week ago, Aburoc was dry and dusty. However, the arrival of light rain this week has provided the first signs of just how difficult it will be to continue providing assistance to internally displaced people (IDPs) when the rainy season begins.
Humanitarian workers and peacekeepers are already being forced to find alternative routes for their vehicles off the main road to avoid getting bogged down in mud and the airstrip is waterlogged. The water points currently used by civilians are also flooded and difficult to access, creating concern about the likelihood of a significant outbreak of diarrhoea and cholera.
The provision of clean water is a priority. Humanitarian agencies are working hard to upgrade water and sanitation areas. Humanitarian agencies are working hard to upgrade water and sanitation areas.
Many IDPs have already left the area, travelling north to refugee sites in Sudan although about 16,000 remain. Some are expressing a desire to be reunited with their families in Almaganis, about 200km north of Aburoc, while others are making arrangements to leave before the rain arrives.
One of the IDPs, Martha Peter, said people were leaving for Sudan in the hope of finding a more stable and secure environment with better living conditions, particularly for their children.
“Here we drink the water in the streams and, whenever we use this water for bathing, it causes rashes on our skins, like my skin now has a rash. But what can we do?” she said. “Nobody is able to stay here. We go to Sudan because, in Sudan, the humanitarian situation is good.”
Despite the significant challenges in Aburoc, humanitarian aid is continuing to reach those in need with food rations issued to 17,343 IDPs by the World Food Programme. About 17 aid agencies remain in the area providing life-saving assistance including food, water, sanitation and medical care as well as shelter. The UN Mine Action Service is also working to check and clear old landmines from the road to enable safe travel for water trucks.
Humanitarian groups and UNMISS are promising to continue to work together in the best interests of those affected by the ongoing violence.
“This needless conflict is creating untold human suffering and all that we are doing as humanitarians and even as UNMISS is dealing with the consequences of a problem,” said Eugene Owusu. “The fundamental problem is conflict. We need to fix the politics and we need to stop this needless fighting. The guns have to stay silent to give the South Sudanese the opportunity to live in peace and prosperity and also to live a life of dignity.”