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SOUTH SUDAN: Thousands of displaced children on border with Sudan at risk of cholera

Thousands of displaced children on the South Sudanese side of the border with Sudan are at risk of deadly cholera outbreaks due to flooding and lack of adequate sewage systems, said Save the Children ahead of World Refugee Day. 
19 June 2023

Cases of cholera have already been reported in resettlement camps in Malakal, further down the river Nile, where many of the refugees from Sudan and returnees from South Sudan* have been resettled after they cross the border. 

As donors meet in Geneva today to discuss financial support to the crisis in Sudan and the subsequent refugee influx to neighboring countries, the child rights organization is urging donors to give generously to avoid a health crisis. Displaced children and families  continue to flock into South Sudan every day from Sudan, fleeing violence and instability.

In Renk, in the northeastern part of South Sudan, the start of the rainy season earlier this month brought in torrential rains, causing large areas of transit centres to become mud fields and raising fears that deadly floods and outbreaks of diseases like cholera will occur in coming weeks. Cholera spreads quickly in flooded areas, when the feces of an infected person contaminates water or food. The disease can spread rapidly in areas with inadequate treatment of sewage and drinking water.

Resources to respond to this escalating crisis in the border region are increasingly limited, with facilities reaching breaking point. Last month Save the Children reported that its staff had witnessed tensions between people desperate to access the limited clean water available.

Muzamil Sebi, Save the Children’s  Director of Advocacy, Campaigns, Communication and Media  in South Sudan, who visited Renk two weeks ago, said:   

“People are dying in these transit centres and resettlement camps due to lack of access to medical care and exposure to the elements. With the start of the rainy season, facilities are reaching breaking point. Poor sanitation and overcrowding in particular are a critical issue.  

“Two weeks ago children were exposed to the dangerous scorching sun as temperatures reached a scorching 45 degrees Celsius in Renk, but in the coming weeks people will be at risk of pneumonia and cholera due to the rains, and their few remaining belongings risk being washed away by floods. This is a stark example of how the world’s most vulnerable children are impacted by extreme weather events that are being amplified by the climate crisis.   

“Children are most vulnerable to these diseases and without additional medical supplies, thousands are at risk of dying in the coming weeks.”   

Save the Children is supporting displaced children and families in Renk, including by providing child protection and family tracing and reunification support for children who have been separated from their families.  

Since fighting began in Sudan mid-April, more than 1.9 million people have been displaced, including close to 500,000 people who have sought safety in neighbouring countries. More than 90,000 of them – nearly 1 in 5 - have reached South Sudan, making the country the third largest host of displaced people from Sudan after Egypt and Chad.  

At the same time, South Sudan is already facing a full-blown humanitarian emergency with more than 9.4 million people – 76% of the population – needing humanitarian assistance. Despite this, South Sudan is one of the world’s most underfunded crises. In June 2022, the World Food Programme was forced to suspend food assistance due to lack of funding. 

Ahead of the High-level Pledging Event to Support the Humanitarian Response in Sudan and the Region taking place today, Pornpun Jib Rabiltossaporn, Save the Children's Country Director in South Sudan, said:   

“Cuts to international funding have had a devastating impact across South Sudan. We have been fortunate to be able to respond to the needs of newly displaced people from Sudan so far, but without new funds there is no telling how long this support will last. With the crisis in Sudan showing no sign of abating, support will be needed for weeks and months to come as people will continue to come across the border.  

“More international support is urgently needed to enable us not only to respond to this new crisis but also to continue to support people affected by the ongoing hunger crisis affecting millions across the country. We must not leave anyone behind.”  

Save the Children has been working in South Sudan since 1991, providing children with access to education, healthcare and nutrition support, and families with food security and livelihood assistance. In 2022, Save the Children programmes in South Sudan reached over 1 million children. 


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