A rapidly rising refugee population in Upper Nile State, South Sudan is facing urgent health, nutrition and disease prevention needs, as conflict and hunger in neighboring Blue Nile State of Sudan continues to drive people across the border. Malnutrition levels are alarmingly high among refugees in Maban County, the majority of them women and children. Without water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) interventions, the over-congestion in refugee camps, minimal sanitation facilities, diminishing water supplies, and imminent rainy season in Maban could trigger cholera and communicable disease outbreaks.
Upper Nile State hosts more than 120,000 refugees, with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) projecting the arrival of 20,000-50,000 more in June. Over 32,000 refugees remain stranded at Hofra transit site, where water supplies have dried up and there is limited access to shelter, food, sanitation facilities, and basic health services. Preliminary nutrition screenings at Hofra for 394 children under five years of age showed that 15% were severely malnourished and 22% were moderately malnourished. The rate of acute watery diarrhea among refugees is also exceptionally high, at 52%.
UNHCR plans to move up to 2,000 people per day from Hofra transit site to Yusuf Batil camp (18km away), which hosts 10,000 refugees to date. As the camp currently lacks the capacity to support this anticipated influx, International Medical Corps has been asked to immediately intervene and scale up health and nutrition activities at Yusuf Batil, including hygiene promotion and cholera preparedness. On June 14, UNHCR relocated over 900 refugees to Yusuf Batil and International Medical Corps, in collaboration with GOAL of Ireland, provided health consultations to the new arrivals. In the coming weeks, International Medical Corps aims to reach 36,000 refugees at Yusuf Batil, while providing mobile medical services to transit camps as needed.
Currently, no nutrition, mental health, psychosocial, or protection and gender-based violence (GBV) support is available in Yusuf Batil. International Medical Corps has an emergency nutritionist in Maban who is preparing community management of acute malnutrition interventions, as well as an emergency WASH specialist being deployed to focus on mitigating preventable diseases such as cholera. International Medical Corps also intends to provide psychological first aid and work with partners to support survivors of GBV. Its comprehensive primary health care clinic will include an inpatient department that runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
In recent months, International Medical Corps has scaled up its operations to respond to the needs of refugee and returnee populations throughout South Sudan. 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. The organization, which has been operating in South Sudan since 1994, is also supporting 21 health facilities and responding to casualties in Jonglei, where inter-communal fighting in has been ongoing since early 2011. It also currently works in Upper Nile, Central Equatoria, and Western Equatoria State.