Thursday, June 14, 2012

South Sudan Refugee Water Shortage Killing Up to 10 People Daily

As many as 10 refugees are dying daily as water runs out in camps in South Sudan hosting an influx of people fleeing fighting in Sudan’s Blue Nile state, the aid group Medicines Sans Frontieres said.

Voitek Asztabski, an emergency coordinator with MSF, said people died on the road during a 25-kilometer (16-mile) trek to a camp in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state after water ran out at another site four days ago, forcing thousands to leave.

“That was quite a horrifying activity being witnessed by us here,” Asztabski said today by satellite telephone from the Kilometer 18 transit camp where MSF has stored water. Rains made roads impassable for trucks, he said.

Sudan’s military and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North have been fighting in the Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states over the past year. There are now at least 152,000 Sudanese refugees from the conflict in South Sudan’s Upper Nile and Unity states, according to the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR.

Between five to 10 people are dying every day either walking to water sources or in clinics at two camps, MSF Deputy Head of Mission in South Sudan Tara Newell said by telephone today from Juba, the capital. That figure does not include a third camp, and the aid agency is conducting a mortality survey to get more accurate data, she said.

‘Major Crisis’

Relations between the two countries have deteriorated since South Sudan seceded from Sudan in July after a referendum on independence, the culmination of a 2005 peace agreement intended to end a two-decade civil war. The south kept three-quarters of the formerly united country’s oil output of about 490,000 barrels a day.

Negotiations mediated by the African Union will resume on June 21 to discuss a dispute over the fees South Sudan should pay to export its oil through Sudan’s pipelines and processing network, as well as territorial disputes and security.

The talks have not yet halted the refugee flow, as another 15,000 people are expected to cross the border in the coming days or weeks, Asztabski said.

“We are expecting a major crisis once the water source dries out at Kilometer 18,” he said. Aid agencies have not had the money or capacity to put a contingency plan in place for when water runs out there within the next three weeks, he said.

UNHCR said it talking with South Sudanese authorities and local communities to identify alternative camp sites, the agency said in e-mailed statement on June 11.

In an April report, Human Rights Watch said civilians are victims of indiscriminate bombing carried out by Sudan’s military. Khartoum has repeatedly denied bombing civilians.

Asztabski said refugees tell “horrific stories” of fleeing their villages to escape aerial attacks. Some have walked for as long as two months to reach the border, and many arrive malnourished and sick, he said. 

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