"We have to keep the camp clean and a healthy place to be – we have no idea how long we will have to stay here." says Julia, a volunteer in the UNMISS Tomping compound in Juba.
By Kristin Taylor
Since the outbreak of violence in South Sudan just over three weeks ago, UNICEF and its partners have been at the forefront of relief efforts, including in the capital, Juba, where the recent crisis began.
NEW YORK, United States of America, 8 January 2014 – Children in the world’s youngest country are no strangers to conflict. Three years ago, the people of Southern Sudan voted for independence after decades of civil war between north and south – a war that took a significant toll on both sides. And for many children and their families in South Sudan, internal conflict has also been a source of threat.
The current violence
On 15 December 2013, fighting broke out in Juba between factions of the armed forces of South Sudan. Over the next two days, more than 300 people were sent to hospital with injuries. The country’s limited medical facilities struggled to treat the influx of patients, and many people were unable to access necessary care at all.
The violence has since spread to six of South Sudan’s 10 states. Civilians – including children and women – have not been spared, and make up the majority of those displaced and in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.
About 201,000 people have been internally displaced, and an estimated 32,000 have fled to neighbouring countries. Of those displaced within the country, some 60,000 have taken refuge on bases of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), where crowded encampments have been established.
Water, sanitation and hygiene, food, shelter, nutrition and health are priority needs for children, but humanitarian response remains a challenge in areas of the country where insecurity restricts access to population centres.
Water, sanitation and hygiene
It has been possible to reach those who fled to the two peacekeeping compounds in Juba with critical aid. There, UNICEF, the wider UN family and its partners are providing assistance to almost 30,000 people sheltering in the city’s two UNMISS bases.
With training from UNICEF and partner Nonviolent Peaceforce, volunteers in Tomping are sharing safety tips to help minimize the risk of children being separated from their families.
Ensuring adequate access to sanitation and hygiene is a priority in the camps, where crowded living conditions increase the risk of disease. UNICEF has provided squatting plates and other materials for latrines, and with the assistance of UN Peacekeeping Forces and partners has so far completed some 500 latrines at the two bases, with more under construction.
UNICEF has also worked with partners to mobilize volunteers to maintain the latrines and – equipped with gloves, shovels, wheelbarrows and rubbish bags – they have cleaned areas in the compound where displaced people had no choice but to defecate in the open before the latrines were built. All waste backlog at the camps has been cleared, and rubbish is now removed from collection points in the camp on a daily basis.
Promoting good hygiene among residents is another vital role for the volunteers, who talk to the residents – particularly children – about the importance of using the latrines and keeping the camp clean.
"We have to make sure that people are using healthy practices," says Julia, one of the volunteers in Tomping. "We have to keep the camp clean and a healthy place to be – we have no idea how long we will have to stay here."
UNICEF is also delivering clean water, providing containers to store and transport water and distributing chlorination tablets to purify additional water being brought into the camp.
Health and nutrition support
Conflict and displacement further exacerbate the risk of undernutrition among already vulnerable groups, especially young children and pregnant and lactating women.
UNICEF, along with its partner Concern Worldwide, has distributed high-energy biscuits, which contain essential nutrients, alongside food rations from the World Food Programme.
A boy with a box of high-energy biscuits. The biscuits are being distributed to help prevent undernutrition, to which children are more vulnerable amid conflict and displacement.
UNICEF is working with partners to monitor children for malnutrition and has provided supplies for the treatment of acute malnutrition to outpatient clinics set up by Médecins Sans Frontières at both compounds.The Ministry of Health, with support from UNICEF and the World Health Organization, plans to start vaccination campaigns in the towns of Awerial and Bentiu.
As families flee violence and move into crowded displacement camps, children are at risk of being separated from their relatives. UNICEF is supporting efforts to identify separated, unaccompanied or missing children and to reunite them with their families.
UNICEF and partner Nonviolent Peaceforce are also training child protection volunteers to help reduce the effects of separation – and to prevent it from happening. Volunteers advise camp residents, for example, on responding in the event of separation or if an unaccompanied child is found. They also share safety tips, such as never leaving children unattended in camps and making sure that children can recite the names of their parents.
The way forward
As the crisis continues, efforts in Juba are only part of the response. Although UNICEF has been able to access some additional parts of the country with water, hygiene, sanitation, nutrition and immunization support, reaching displaced civilians with humanitarian assistance is extremely difficult in areas where the fighting is heavy.
UNICEF is especially concerned about the children and other civilians in areas that cannot be reached. They face desperate shortages of food and water, and a lack of sanitation facilities poses a high risk of disease. Families are spending their days without shelter in the intense heat and sun, and sleeping in the open during the cold nights. Young children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of diarrhoea and pneumonia and to diseases such as measles, which is highly contagious, especially in crowded conditions.
Aid agencies, including UNICEF, have recently launched the South Sudan Crisis Response Plan, which calls for US$209 million to meet needs emerging from the current crisis, part of a larger humanitarian appeal for $1.1 billion for 2014. So far, $43 million has already been secured for crisis response from January to March.
Much remains to be done so that the children of South Sudan can recover from the effects of violence and once again look towards a more hopeful future.