Report by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)
Since conflict broke out in Sudan on April 15, an estimated 9,000 people have been killed, more than 4.6 million have become internally displaced, and over 1.2 million have crossed Sudan’s borders into neighbouring countries. Of this number, close to 353,000 have fled to South Sudan – this includes over 295,000 South Sudanese returnees and over 50,000 Sudanese refugees [UN].
The majority have reached Renk in the northeast of the country, but many are also coming through two border-crossing points from Darfur into Northern Bahr el Ghazal state, which is located in the north-west of South Sudan, bordering East Darfur and Abyei to the north.
According to UNHCR, around 9,000 people are currently living in a refugee settlement near a town called Wedweil, where MSF opened a health clinic in June as part of its emergency response. The MSF clinic is for everyone in the area: refugees and existing residents of Wedweil included.
Between June and September, MSF carried out over 10,400 consultations at this clinic. We also trucked over 900,000 litres of water to the camp and drilled a borehole to ensure that new residents had an adequate supply. However, there are many gaps remaining, not least of which are the dire sanitation and hygiene conditions in the camp. With the population expected to expand to 20,000 over the coming months, these need to be urgently addressed to prevent an outbreak of disease that could quickly spread out of control.
“The conflict in Sudan is intensifying the existing humanitarian needs in South Sudan,” explains Mamman Mustapha – MSF head of mission in South Sudan. “People in Northern Bahr El Ghazal already face a multitude of issues, including food insecurity, limited access to clean water and limited access to healthcare. Recent floods and droughts have led to crops failing and animals dying, the number of people receiving food rations in the state has been cut by 50 per cent, and at the same time, food prices have been going up, which has reduced people’s ability to buy what they need.”
One impact of this has been seen on the health of children. Over the past year, MSF has seen a drastic increase in the number of malnourished children coming to our hospital in Aweil. Between January and September 2023, 1,015 patients were admitted for treatment for severe malnutrition – a 70 per cent increase compared to the same period last year.
“We are very concerned for the health and wellbeing of refugees and returnees who reach Wedweil – and they are arriving at a time when the situation is already dire. What is more, in Wedweil refugee settlement, people are receiving just 70 per cent of the food rations that they need. This is not enough, and there is a possibility that the consequences of this will be seen in the coming months, when more children will likely begin to suffer from malnutrition. To prevent this from happening, far greater international support is required to provide refugees, and the rest of the population in South Sudan, with the essential assistance they need to survive,” adds Mustpha.
Many of the Sudanese refugees who have made it to Wedweil faced harrowing journeys to reach safety, witnessing the brutal killing of their friends and family, attacks and robberies by armed men, as well as many days of thirst and hunger. Now, they have a new reality to adapt to, with little food, few job opportunities, and many expressing that they have little hope for their future or the future of their children. Here, some of our patients share their stories.
Ahmed Ibrahim (39) and Leimona Ahmed (27) are from El Geneina in West Darfur. They are married and have five children. In their hometown, Ahmed was a businessman and was selling clothes – but then the violence erupted and the fighting was taking place very close to their home. The child of a neighbour was shot in the head and many other people were killed – even some of their relatives – so they decided to leave and ran for their lives with their five children.
They slept by the side of the road and were attacked by armed groups on the way. When they finally reached the border, they were provided with food and water, but there was no medical support. It took them a month to reach Wedweil and although they get water, food and also medical assistance here, there is no school for their children, which is a big problem for the family because they fear that there will be no future for their children without a proper education.
Hamad Mohamed (51) from Nyala in South Darfur, is at Wedweil with his children. His wife recently passed away, and his son just tested positive for malaria. They travelled for twelve days to get to Wedweil and arrived on June 28. “The rebels were looting the houses and taking everything they could find. If they didn’t find money, they killed people in their homes. That is why I fled with my family,” he said.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this analysis are those of the contributing author/organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), and do not necessarily reflect the position of Radio Dabanga.