Pressure on water supplies as 35,000 refugees arrive in South Sudan
Between May and early June, an estimated 35,000 refugees from Sudan's Blue Nile state sought asylum in South Sudan, many of them reporting harrowing experiences along the route.
Refugees continue to describe aerial bombardments and ground fighting between the Sudan Armed Forces and Sudan People's Liberation Army (North) forces, as well as growing conflict-induced food shortages. Some refugees have been forced to flee several times within Blue Nile state before making it to South Sudan.
Dungaz Tatalla, 56, and his family walked for 27 days from their village in Gabanid in Blue Nile. They have survived by eating fruit and leaves from the lalob tree and have not had a proper meal in days.
"The bombing of our village is what pushed us from Gabanid," said Tatalla, leading the donkey that carried his exhausted 73 year old mother to safety. "Our houses were burned down. People were being shot. There was nothing to stay for, especially because the whole village was leaving."
The large number of new refugees is adding pressure to an already difficult humanitarian situation in this part of South Sudan. The most critical challenge for aid agencies is to provide enough clean water and to prevent disease.
UNHCR has relieved some pressure by moving 8,000 refugees to another transit site called Kilo 18, where an estimated two weeks of water supply is available. From there, they will be relocated permanently to UNHCR's newest camp, Yusuf Batil. Two recently drilled boreholes in Yusuf Batil have produced a promising yield of water, which could potentially sustain a population of 20,000.
Eighty-year-old, Som Komdan, who almost succumbed to diarrhoea on route, is a recent arrival at Yusuf Batil. "I am grateful to UNHCR and my son who forced me to continue our journey to safety this far," he said with a toothless grin, surrounded by his worldly belongings stuffed in three big sorghum bags.
Like all new arrivals at the new camp, Som received food rations and relief supplies such as plastic buckets, jerry cans and sleeping mats. He ventured further, chuckling cheekily, "Now that they have provided me with a place to sleep peacefully, perhaps UNHCR can find me a set of teeth with which to enjoy my meals in my old age?"
South Sudan is currently hosting around 150,000 refugees from Sudan. More than 105,000 of these are in Upper Nile state, while a further 47,000 are in settlements further west in Unity state. Recent arrivals have warned of a possible influx of 15,000 refugees still making the journey from Sudan.