SOUTH SUDAN: Urgent aid needed for 30 000 people who fled fighting in Wau Shilluk

Monday, March 20, 2017 — Over the last weeks, fighting in the Greater Upper Nile region has left the town of Wau Shilluk deserted, and now thousands of vulnerable people who fled the violence are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

Until recently, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) ran a hospital in Wau Shilluk, but when the fighting erupted, the organisation was forced to evacuate the facility. MSF has now launched an emergency medical operation to support the thousands of displaced persons settled north of th0e town of Kodok, in Aburoch, and in the more sparsely populated areas south of the town.

Since late January, nearly 30,000 people have fled fighting around Wau Shilluk, in the Greater Upper Nile, and moved to Aburoch town and the bush areas south of Kodok.

“The humanitarian needs of those that fled are vast and are not beingmet,” says Abdalla Hussein Abdalla, MSF’s deputy head of mission for South Sudan. “Most of the people who fled left all their belongings behind. They walked for days to escape the violence, and now they are in dire need of water, food, shelter and medical attention.”

MSF has responded to the urgent medical needs of this displaced population by opening a field hospital with inpatient, outpatient and emergency services in Aburoch, where up to 15,000 people have settled. Two mobile clinics are also operating south of Kodok where part of the displaced population has settled. Over the last two weeks, MSF is providing an average of 300 consultations a day, six times the number that was provided in Wau Shilluk hospital before the evacuation.

Community health suffering badly

Those who have settled in these areas have very little to survive on. For weeks people have only received an average of two liters of clean water per person. While in recent days this has slightly improved, the amount is still below guidelines for what is required to remain healthy in an emergency environment. Among the families MSF has visited, over 90% were lacking basic supplies such as plastic sheeting to protect them against the sun or the cold at night, jerry cans to collect clean water or cooking pots.

“Our doctors see many cases of respiratory infection and of acute diarrhoea which is partly explained by the terrible living conditions. Children, pregnant women and the elderly are especially vulnerable in this situation,” says Abdalla. “If more latrines are not constructed soon, and access to water is not improved, the risk of communicable diseases spreading through the population will increase.”

For most people arriving from Wau Shilluk, this is not the first time that they have been displaced. Many had previously lived in Malakal town but were forced to leave because of fighting. Some have relatives in the Malakal Protection of Civilians site, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) established camp, but are unable to inform them of their present situation.

Protection of civilians from further fighting

MSF is worried by the insufficiency of humanitarian assistance available and reiterates its call for all those involved in the fighting to guarantee the safety of civilians. “Many people don’t know where to settle because they are afraid the fighting will force them to flee again. It is essential that they are spared from any more violence, and that assistance is provided to them where they choose to settle,”  says Abdalla.

MSF managed to visit Wau Shilluk at the end of February and again in early March, where the team assisted 47 people who had stayed in and around the town, mainly elderly and disabled people who were unable to leave. Thirty eight of them have since been taken to the Malakal Protection of Civilians site upon their request. The remaining civilians in the town are in clear need of assistance and protection. Humanitarian workers should be allowed to provide them with the help they require. 

MSF reiterates its call for respect of medical facilities and staff

During this recent visit, MSF was able to return to its hospital in Wau Shilluk and survey the condition of facility. “Wau Shilluk was looted of all medicines including life-saving drugs and essential supplies. We have called on those fighting to respect the protected status of medical facilities. Unfortunately, our hospital is in terrible condition.  Medication for the treatment of tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and kala azar are now all gone,” explains Abdalla. “If medical facilities are not able to operate safely the whole community will suffer.”

Mary Mayik Lual is a 32-year old, single mother of five who is originally from Malakal and who works as a cleaner for MSF. In 2014 she was forced to leave her original home for Wau Shilluk after Malakal was attacked. This February, fighting again forced her to flee, this time for Aburoch where MSF is running emergency operations. She walked all the way from Wau Shilluk to Aburoch and on 3rd of February during her escape from Wau Shilluk, she had to leave her mother behind who couldn´t walk. The next day, she decided to go back to the road and find her mother. Photographer: Elena Grandio
The conditions in Aburoch are harsh, and if they do not improve soon, the health of the whole community will suffer. On average each person is only receiving two litres of clean water a day, far below what is required. People have to queue for several hours to get clean water. Photographer: Elena Grandio
In Aburoch, people are sleeping under trees with the little plastic sheeting they managed to find. Most of the people who fled Wau Shilluk left all their belongings behind. They walked for days to escape the violence, and now they are now in dire need of water, food, shelter and medical attention. Photographer: Elena Grandio
Elena Grandío is providing assistance to a young child suffering from malaria in an spontaneous site of displaced persons in the south of Kodok in February. MSF teams see many cases of respiratory infection and of acute diarrhoea which is partly explained by the appalling living conditions. Children, pregnant women and the elderly are especially vulnerable in this situation. Photographer: Abdalla Hussein
Since late January, thousands of people have fled fighting around Wau Shilluk in the Greater Upper Nile and moved to Aburoch town and the bushy areas south of Kodok. The humanitarian needs of those that fled are vast and are not being met. Most of the people who fled left all their belongings behind. They walked for days to escape the violence. Some people managed to find a transportation to reach Aburoch from Kodok and not having to walk an extra day. Photographer: Abdalla Hussein
For the last two years, Francis Ronyo has worked as a nurse in MSF’s Wau Shilluk hospital. He was one of the national staff on duty when the decision was taken to evacuate and leave for Kodok. Since he arrived in Kodok, he doesn’t have a place to stay and ends up sleeping in the open with the rest of the people from Wau Shilluk. He however decided to continue serving the sick and the wounded in any way he could and is now providing medical are in the MSF clinic in Aburoch. Photographer: Riaz Hussain
The conditions in Aburoch are harsh, and if they do not improve soon, the health of the whole community will suffer. On average each person is only receiving two litres of clean water a day, far below what is required. People have to queue for several hours to get clean water. Photographer: Elena Grandio