South Sudan

MSF scales up emergency response

The registered number of refugees gathering at the tiny village of Doro, as of 7th December, was 21,500 and increasing daily. Anywhere from 500 to 1,000 newcomers are registering every day.

The walk from their homelands in Blue Nile State, Sudan (north), took anywhere from one week to one month. Although the work to set up a properly organised refugee camp is under way, no family groups arriving at the gathering point at Doro have yet been allocated a plot. So the reality for most is still to find a small tree or bush under which to spread the belongings they were able to carry.

The refugees say they have fled war in Blue Nile State in neighbouring Sudan. A community elder who recently arrived told MSF staff that he believes his entire community of 5,000 has fled to Doro. “We came, all of us,” he said. “No one remains behind.”

He said his community is largely subsistence farmers, cultivating land for food. Their newfound circumstances, which he is worried may last for years, are unsettling. Many of them have been in this situation before, as past refugees in camps in Ethiopia for a decade during the civil war in Sudan. “I feel very bad being here because we see that life will be difficult for us with no food and water,” he said. “My people keep asking me how we are going to survive in this place.”

The limited services in the area are overwhelmed. Near the perimeter of what is being marked out as the refugee camp, a borehole with a hand pump that has been servicing the local villagers is now overcrowded with women and girls who sometimes wait in line with their plastic water containers for up to 12 hours at a stretch. Tensions are rising.

“Many of the patients that we see in our clinic have respiratory diseases,” says MSF clinical officer Robert Mungai Maina. “And there are many patients with diarrhoeal diseases because for the past weeks there were no latrines and there is not enough water. Today we had four cases of bloody diarrhoea and many more cases of watery diarrhoea. We are also seeing malnourished children, some with moderate and some with severe malnutrition. We’re here to provide healthcare, but with our water and sanitation team we are also digging latrines, preparing to supply water, trying to meet the immediate needs.”

One 33-year-old man told MSF that he had come to seek safety, but that he was presented now with a new set of problems. “[During our journey] my children would ask me, ‘Where are we going?’ They wanted to go home. I told them we were running away from the war. We needed to get to a safe place. But here there are a lot of problems facing us. We came to a place where we can be secure, but food security is now replacing the other security problem that we ran from.”