Urgent action is needed on the border of South Sudan and Sudan to avert a humanitarian disaster before the rainy season arrives says HelpAge International today.
Since the start of the fighting in Khartoum on 15 April, over 56,000 people (mainly South Sudanese returnees) have fled Sudan, crossing the border into South Sudan. And hundreds more are crossing every day. There is now overcrowding, especially in Renk town, with very poor sanitation conditions, which could severely worsen if the rainy season takes hold.
William Ngabonziza, Executive Director of Humanitarian Development Consortium (HelpAge partner) recently visited Renk. He explained:
“Even before the Sudan crisis, conditions were very bad in Renk. There is very little food and clean water and toilets. But now with the massive influx of people, things could get very dangerous. People are defecating in the open and drinking water from the rivers, and if water sources become contaminated, this could cause deadly diseases like cholera, which can be particularly fatal for older people.”
“Older people are arriving exhausted and frightened after what they experienced in the conflict in Sudan and there is nothing for them here. Many are desperate to get to places where they used to live before fleeing civil war. At least there they have friends and family who could help them.”
Peter Thik Akol (80) had travelled to Khartoum in Sudan from Aweil in Northern Bhar El Ghazal State in South Sudan to get treatment for a broken leg that hadn’t healed properly but before the treatment was finished war broke out.
“A bomb exploded in a nearby building; there was gunfire all around and jet fighters ahead,” he explained. “We fled for our lives and I fell and really hurt my leg. My children had to carry me to get to the bus station. My son then borrowed money for the tickets and it took two days to travel from Khartoum to the border in Renk. Now I am very worried.
“It’s very congested and my leg now is so bad that I have lost hope of walking again. I don’t know the health status of those around me and I feel exposed to any disease outbreak. We want to get back home to Aweil but we have no money for transport, so we are stuck here.”
Sarah Abatiwak Choul (72) was living as a cleaner in Khartoum when the conflict began, but was born in Yirol which is under Lakes state in what is now South Sudan. She left 41 years ago when civil war broke out between the Sudanese government in Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M).
“We started hearing gun shots as we were living near a military area in Khartoum which became a hotspot in the fighting so we decided to leave.
“We came by bus to Renk which took us two days. It was very stressful as we feared looting and kidnapping by Sudanese soldiers, but thankfully this didn’t happen. And many of the returnees were prisoners, so it didn’t feel safe.
She added: “It’s very difficult living here. I have a skin infection and allergies and as it is very congested, I fear disease outbreaks. There’s also not enough food. I’m now only eating one meal a day and there’s not enough clean water. I also feel traumatised, remembering the gunshots and dead bodies that I saw. I can’t sleep because of the nightmares. I want to go back to Yirol where I was born, but we have no money.”
William Ngabonziza concluded: “It’s absolutely vital that people are supported to leave this place as soon as possible, as there is nothing for them here. The transit centre that is being housed to support the most vulnerable is a university and the staff there could ask for this back at any time.
“The area was already suffering from a food crisis before the conflict broke out and it’s so isolated. We had to bring in everything we needed as you can’t find supplies here. It’s two and a half hours away by plane to Juba, the capital. The roads are deplorable and in the rainy season, virtually unpassable. It really is a race against time to help people as soon as possible.”
Supported by HelpAge International and Age International, HDC is about to start providing cash to 300 older people and their families, including Peter and Sarah mentioned above, to be able to travel to their home towns in South Sudan and buy whatever essentials they need.