Since this story was published, MSF has corrected its figures to say an average of two to three children were dying each day in Jammam refugee camp.
By Katy Migiro
NAIROBI (AlertNet) – Almost nine children are dying every day in South Sudan’s Jammam refugee camp, the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) says, as fighting in Sudan’s Blue Nile State continues to drive thousands over the border.
Heavy rains have flooded most of the camp where 35,000 people have sought refuge.
“Many camp residents, including children, sleep in wet clothes under soaked blankets, leaving them vulnerable to hypothermia,” MSF said in a statement.
“The latrines have overflowed, contaminating standing water, which is not fit for human consumption.”
Jammam is one of three camps set up to accommodate over 110,000 Sudanese refugees who have fled into South Sudan’s remote Upper Nile State since conflict broke out between the government and rebels in Blue Nile in September.
The child mortality rate in Jammam is 2.8 per 10,000 per day - well above the emergency threshold of one death per 10,000 people per day. Two-thirds of deaths are due to diarrhoea.
With the onset of the rainy season, increasing numbers of people are falling ill with young children at greatest risk.
“Our clinic is already filled with children suffering from pneumonia, diarrhoea and malnutrition,” said Erna Rijnierse who is working with MSF in Jammam.
“If they stay in these sorts of conditions, there could well be profoundly distressing consequences.”
Over the last two weeks, MSF medical teams in Jammam have treated at least 2,500 people for diarrheal diseases, respiratory diseases, malaria, and malnutrition.
“These people have fled terrible violence in Sudan and lost family members during their arduous journeys for safety, and now they are sitting exposed in refugee camps on a flood plain and dying from preventable diseases due to horrific living conditions,” MSF’s emergency coordinator in Jammam, Tara Newell, said in the statement.
“HORRIFIC LIVING CONDITIONS”
Ironically, there is a chronic shortage of clean water in flooded Jammam camp, despite efforts to drill for water.
Humanitarian agencies have been planning to relocate the refugees to Yusuf Batil, a new site with more water which opened at the end of May.
But the continuing influx of exhausted, hungry and dehydrated new arrivals from Sudan has delayed this.
Some 35,000 refugees have crossed the border in the last few weeks, according to the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR.
The agency said recently that those arriving at Elfoj – a transit site less than 10km (6 miles) from the border - were in poor physical condition with MSF reporting a number of deaths.
As the Elfoj area has been bombed in the past, moving the new arrivals to safety at Yusuf Batil has taken priority over relocating refugees from Jammam.
MALNUTRITION “ALARMINGLY HIGH”
But the situation is also dire in Yusuf Batil where the population has surged from 6,000 to 35,000 in the last few days.
The global acute malnutrition (GAM) rate is an "alarmingly high" 15.3 percent, according to International Medical Corps (IMC). GAM is used as an indicator of the severity of a humanitarian crisis. The emergency threshold is 15 percent.
Refugees are malnourished because of food shortages back home. The government has severely restricted aid to rebel-held areas in its two war-torn border states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan.
The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET) estimates up to 150,000 people in rebel-held Blue Nile and up to 250,000 people in rebel-held South Kordofan face crisis due to emergency levels of food insecurity. These are levels three and four on the scale of hunger, with famine at level five.
In government-held South Kordofan, 800 children are being treated for severe acute malnutrition in feeding centres each month, according to the U.N. children’s fund’s (UNICEF).
Severe acute malnutrition is more serious than global acute malnutrition as children risk death without emergency treatment.
The 30 feeding centres are run by Sudan’s ministry of health with the support of UNICEF, Save the Children Sweden, Concern and Al-Manar, a local organisation.
The latest malnutrition figures (GAM) for these two states date back to 2010, before the conflict started. They are 17.4 percent in South Kordofan and 16.2 percent in Blue Nile.