Sudan Refugees Face Disease in Camps in South Sudan

Civilians fleeing fighting and hunger in Sudan are living in overcrowded camps in neighboring South Sudan where they face worsening outbreaks of disease, flooding and poor sanitation, international aid agencies said.

Hepatitis E has killed at least 16 people in recent weeks in camps sheltering 106,000 refugees in Maban County in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state that Oxfam called “ticking time bombs” in an e-mailed statement today. “Conditions are dire and survival remains a struggle,” the International Committee of the Red Cross said. People drink polluted water on the ground because clean supplies are scarce, it said in a statement.

“It’s flat land, it’s flood-prone and then the water just kind of sits there,” Teresa Ongaro, a spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said yesterday by phone in Juba, South Sudan’s capital. “People defecate in the open and don’t wash their hands if they’re sharing the handwashing facilities.”

Oxfam said new camps need to be built to ease the overcrowding and accommodate 60,000 more refugees who are expected to cross the border in the coming months.

“These refugees have struggled to survive a year of hell,” Pauline Ballaman, head of Oxfam’s emergency response in Maban, said in the statement. “The Maban camps alone are not an answer to the crisis -– there is simply not enough groundwater to sustain so many people, and now heavy rains have left people wading through mud to get basic services.”

Conflict Zones

Oxfam also urged the Sudanese government to honor its pledge last month to let aid into the conflict zones in Blue Nile and oil-rich Southern Kordofan states so the outflow of refugees would slow.

The civilians have fled more than a year of armed clashes in the two states that started after President Umar al-Bashir’s government tried to disarm soldiers who fought during a two-decade civil war alongside the forces of South Sudan, which gained independence in July last year.

The two countries, locked in a series of disputes since the south’s independence, are negotiating oil and border security issues in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital.

The UN World Food Programme has drawn up plans to provide food aid to half a million people in both government- and rebel-held areas in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, Amor Almagro, a spokeswoman in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, said yesterday. It’s waiting for permission from Bashir’s government.

“For our part, we have done what was expected of us,” she said by phone. “We are ready as soon as access is granted, but we are waiting for that.”

Sudanese Foreign Ministry spokesman al-Obeid Murawih didn’t answer four calls seeking comment yesterday and today.

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