Children are the most vulnerable in any conflict situation, and South Sudan is no exception. People can die, not because of weapon-inflicted injuries, but due to preventable diseases that are not treated and health systems that are severely compromised.
Graham Juma, Plan South Sudan’s project field supervisor supporting emergency response in Awerial County, says, “People are scattered under the trees and those who are lucky are housed in the tented camps. Many children are suffering from diarrhea as a result of poor hygiene and feeding, and cholera is also a threat. Open defecation is rampant as there are no sanitary facilities available.”
Before conflict broke out, Mingkaman camp in Awerial, about 32 kilometers southwest of Bor County in Jonglei State, was a tiny riverbank settlement with a few thatched huts hosting about 60,000 people.
With the influx of internally displaced persons (IDPs) seeking refuge now,there are not enough sanitation facilities to cover everyone. According to John Barach, secretary for the Relief Rehabilitation Commission in charge of Awerial county, the camp is hosting more than 140,000 IDPs, a figure that is nearly triple the usual population of the host community.
Many cases of malnourished children have been reported.
“Children are in need of nutrition supplements. Hygiene and sanitation is of concern as the number of IDPs has exceeded the minimal available sanitation facilities,” says Barach.
Rachael, 28 and mother of four, is living in Nimule, located near the Ugandan border: “Some of us came with one cloth. If we get little water we bathe outside in the dark because there are no bathrooms. We use the little remaining water for washing the dress and wait for it to dry. We have no toilets here. It is easy for the young children but for us adults it’s hard, you have to find a dark place where you cannot be seen.”
Plan has been operating a nutrition program in Awerial in partnership with the World Food Programme (WFP) and has been supporting IDPs through provision of nutrition supplements and non-food items to affected families.“Children are often incredibly resilient and that is why Plan is ready to move into more areas where children have been most affected. We want to provide these children with an environment in which they can recover and be protected,” Gyan Adhikari, Country Director for Plan South Sudan, says.
John Muyol, who fled fighting in South Sudan to seek refuge at Nyamunzi camp, a refugee settlement in Northern Uganda, says, “There are no latrines available at the camps, and the water supplied is not sufficient – one family can go for two days without water. Plan’s intervention in water and sanitation would be great, especially construction of latrines within the camps.”
Plan is working on constructing communal latrines within the camps to mitigate any future outbreaks of diseases.
“The rains will soon start and this will worsen the situation, so we are planning ahead especially around water and sanitation,” Juma adds.