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Emergency Response in South Sudan: “All the people are your sign”

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By Nick Stanton, Communications Officer, South Sudan

The road from Juba, South Sudan’s capital city, to the small town of Minkamon is five hours of tough driving on bad roads with a consistent vista of green but dusty scrub land. Gradually, on the outskirts of Minkamon, you begin to see the people forced from their homes that have made this sleepy town, on the banks of the Nile, the focus of so much of the international community’s attention.

The people have come in such numbers that when given directions for Minkamon we were pointed north up the one straight road and told “all the people are your sign for Minkamon”. Sure enough we begin to notice a few more people sat under trees. They look no different from the locals you pass along the road, sitting under shady trees or emerging from tukuls, the cone shaped mud huts that dot the landscape of South Sudan. The difference is these people don’t have tukuls, or homes of any kind. Their home for now and all of their belongings are visible in the branches of the trees they sit under.

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International Medical Corps emergency response team talk to a local first responder about working together to reach those IDPs living in the bush

Across Awerial County nearly 100,000 people have sought safety over the last month, having been forced from their homes by fierce fighting across the Nile in the town of Bor. Minkamon hosts the majority of these Internally Displaced People (IDPs) and over three days last week a team from International Medical Corps visited to prepare for an emergency response to the current crisis.

Julia Albert-Recht, International Medical Corps UK’s Programme Coordinator for UK Government supported emergency medical programmes in Awerial, said:

“There are quite a few agencies here in Minkamon providing aid and assistance to the IDP population but our main concern is for the people out in the bush who haven’t been reached yet. The only way for us to help these people is to get our team out there talking to people and seeing where they are and what they need.”

Aware that local first responders are often the best source of information on the humanitarian needs in the area, the International Medical Corps team stopped off at a village 40 minutes south of Minkamon, called Kalthok where thousands of IDPs had been reported. A group of local first responders, working for a health organisation escorted the International Medical Corps team into the bush to an area called Yelakot.

It was barely five minutes from the outskirts of the village before the IDPs could be seen, first in groups of 10, then 50 before reaching a large settlement of around 1000 men women and children.

Joshua* had been travelling for two days when he finally reached the relative safety of Yelakot. Like most of those fleeing Bor, the final part of his journey across the Nile was taken by canoe. Joshua was fortunate to find a fisherman who was taking people across the river for free.

“People have been here for 21 days. The children and even the adults are suffering from illnesses and drinking dirty water.”

 

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An IDP forced to leave his home in Bor because of fighting. Now living in a temporary IDP settlement in Minkaman, South Sudan.

 

International Medical Corps are prioritising these small IDP communities like Yelakot, making sure that services reach those in greatest need even when they are far away from the nearest permanent health clinic. The first step in bringing assistance to isolated communities will come from International Medical Corps mobile medical teams. These mobile teams have a key role as Dr Sol Kuah, emergency physician, explains:

“The initial mobile teams going out in the next days will be focused on rapid triage to identify emergency and life-saving cases, measles surveillance, diarrhoea, dehydration, and malaria.  Our mobile teams will base their work on real-time assessments focused on whether people can get access to us and what they need treatment for. These two issues – access and medical need – are our guiding principles.

“From these initial operations and assessment data from our mobile medical sites we will then decide of we need to move on to newly identified pockets or return to existing sites in order to build-up services.”

“In many ways mobile medical units are some of the hardest services to move, staff and supply. But what we get from them is access to the sickest people who can’t get to health posts”

With support from the UK Government, International Medical Corps is setting up emergency medical response units to provide trauma care, primary and secondary health care, nutrition advice and disease prevention campaigns for more than 100,000 people in Awerial and Malakal.

* Names have been changed for reasons of security and confidentiality.

 

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