International Medical Corps is rapidly mobilizing to address urgent nutrition and disease prevention needs among rising refugee populations in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State. Since the start of 2012, the influx of refugees and returnees into South Sudan has risen dramatically, particularly in Upper Nile State, as conflict and hunger in Sudan’s Blue Nile State continues to drive people across the border. Estimates from the UN Refugee Agency indicate that over 110,000 refugees are in Maban County alone, with over 40,000 more expected in the coming weeks.
Malnutrition levels are high among refugees, the majority of them women and children. Many of the arrivals cite hunger—not conflict—as their main reason for crossing the border, reporting that they were forced to consume leaves and insects during an average 15-day trek. The rate of acute water diarrhea among refugees is also alarmingly high.
Maban County currently houses three refugee camps (Jamam, Doro, and Yusuf Batil) and Hofra transit site, which was set up a few weeks ago to move refugees further away from insecurity along the Sudanese border. Although their stay in Hofra was not intended to exceed 10 days, over 34,000 refugees remain stranded at the site with limited access to shelter, food, water, sanitation facilities, and basic health services. Nearby Jamam and Doro camps, currently hosting 37,000 refugees each, are stretched to maximum capacity and have limited water. There will soon be approximately 70,000 underserved refugees in Yusuf Batil and a new camp to be established. The combination of over-congestion in the camps, a lack of sanitation facilities, diminishing water supplies, and an imminent rainy season likely will trigger cholera and communicable disease outbreaks in Maban.
An initial International Medical Corps Emergency Response Team has arrived in South Sudan to conduct a health, nutrition, and water, sanitation & hygiene (WASH) assessment in the Yusuf Batil camp. In the coming two weeks, it is expected that the 30,000 refugees at the Hofra transit site will be moved to Yusuf Batil. Given the high rates of acute malnutrition reported among the refugees, and as there are only mobile medical services at Yusuf Batil, International Medical Corps is prepared to begin health, nutrition, and WASH interventions in Yusuf Batil and other sites, as needed.
In recent months, International Medical Corps has scaled up its operations to respond to refugee and returnee population needs throughout the country. In Pochalla County in Jonglei State, International Medical Corps is the only international NGO providing health services in Alari refugee camp, where 4,000 refugees who fled violence in Ethiopia are currently residing. International Medical Corps is also supporting 21 health facilities and responding to casualties in Jonglei State, where inter-communal fighting in has been ongoing since early 2011. The organization has been present in South Sudan since 1994, and currently works in Jonglei, Upper Nile, Central Equatoria and Western Equatoria State.