South Sudan: At the Breaking Point
CARE Emergency Team Leader Alain Lapierre was recently in Upper Nile State’s UN compound in Malakal scaling up CARE’s water sanitation and hygiene response for people displaced by South Sudan’s internal conflict.
I spent the last three days in Malakal camps. The situation of the 21,500 displaced people sheltering there has reached a very fragile stage. For the moment, their conditions barely meet minimum standards for water, sanitation and shelter. Population density is a lot higher than it should be, bringing a high risk of outbreaks of disease. When the rains start in just a matter of weeks, their situation will go from very bad to much worse.
Arriving back in the capital Juba, I was greeted by an ominous preview of what lays ahead: an early storm that dropped two hours of heavy rain during the night with miserable consequences for the thousands of displaced families sheltering in a UN compounds there. Large areas of the displaced settlement already overcrowded with tents and makeshift shelters were inundated by up to 30 cm (a foot) of water. More than 600 family shelters were destroyed and over 8,000 people’s shelters were left in standing water. And that was just two hours of rain.
Malakal’s displacement site, called a Protection of Civilians area, or PoC, is also highly vulnerable. Conditions are already bad but the rain will bring an even greater humanitarian crisis. A new PoC is under construction but will not be finished in time, and it can only absorb 25 percent of the current displaced population. Heavy fighting in the area has dramatically affected our ability to implement solutions, and CARE and other organizations are now working alongside the UN and against the clock in an attempt to minimize the human suffering. By the end of April the rains will come almost every day.
I was also struck in Malakal by the precarious situation of women in the PoC. I took time to talk to some of them, to gain an understanding of their primary concerns. Most of them told me that their biggest problem at the moment is water. They are just not getting enough. Some have risked venturing outside the protected settlement to get water from the river, as is their custom. But those who stay behind told me that many women who have gone outside never come back. They disappear. Security outside the compound is so bad that the city of Malakal, a state capital, is now a ghost town.
We are working hard to improve sanitation facilities. There are just not enough latrines and it is very difficult to build more because the settlement is so crowded. For women, the elderly and disabled, the situation is extreme. It would strain anyone’s ability to maintain their dignity.
CARE is doing its best to improve conditions, increasing the numbers of emergency toilets and dispatching hygiene promoters to give people advice on how to avoid illness in such difficult conditions. In the coming days we will step up our efforts to the extent that security conditions and funding permit. It is a tough job, working long hours outside in searing sun and sleeping in tents. I only hope that the men with guns outside the compound give us enough peace and time to mitigate this worsening disaster. And that our donors and the international community mobilize the resources we need to ensure that the situation in Malakal and many other settlements protecting the displaced in South Sudan does not get very much worse.
Learn more about CARE's work in South Sudan and how you can help >