In South Sudan, water shortage puts refugees’ lives at serious threat

Sudanese refugees queue to collect water at a camp in Blue Nile state in Sudan. Photo by: V. Tan / UNHCR

Aid agencies need to step up their efforts to help Sudanese refugees in South Sudan, or else “we are going to lose people like flies,” Médecins Sans Frontières warns.

The reason: water shortage. MSF told Alertnet that even if it rains heavily in the coming days, refugees won’t be able to collect sufficient amount of water to guarantee their survival.

Already, some refugees are dying of dehydration and diarrhea.

“Agencies involved [need] to switch gear and realize this is a full blown emergency — they cannot plan for weeks or months to make it perfect. They have to step up activities right now,” said Voitek Asztabski, MSF’s emergency coordinator for Upper Nile, as quoted by Alertnet.

The United Nations estimates that South Sudan hosts around 162,500 people who have fled the fighting and food shortage in Sudan. Recent weeks saw an influx of Sudanese refugees to South Sudan’s Upper Nile region, with an average 1,000 new arrivals per day.

The situation has prompted the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to revise its appeal for South Sudan. In January, it asked for $195.3 million, taking into account a refugee population of not more than 135,000. Now the appeal stands at $219 million and has so far received $45.9 million, or just a little over a fifth of the total request.

“We are very concerned about the growing mortality rates in the refugee camps,” UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said June 22. “Water shortages present a life-threatening risk, particularly for an already weakened population.”

For those with expertise in hydrogeology, MSF urgently needs your services. The medical relief charity is seeking people who could find out where to drill for water. The U.N. refugee agency has found a pair of boreholes in Camp Batil to hold promise of producing water.

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    Eliza Villarino

    Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.