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How do you provide aid to 10,000 refugees in a muddy field?

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By Peter Medway, Emergency Response Leader, Maban South Sudan

International Medical Corps is providing lifesaving health, nutrition and sanitation services to the refugees that have recently arrived in South Sudan, no matter what the weather or the challenges of their remote location. The realities of delivering that help can sometimes seem overwhelming when we find ourselves knee deep in mud and cut off from supplies by the rains.

Over the past week more than 10,000 refugees have been transported from a desolate transit centre known as KM 18 into Yusuf Batil Camp, in Maban County, South Sudan. Most new arrivals are forced to simply camp out under the stars since the supply of tents has not kept pace with arrivals.

The water point in Yusuf Batil Camp – The water supply is still inadequate for the numbers of refugees at the camp

Last Thursday International Medical Corps set up our first health post inside the camp, with four staff working from inside a cramped tent. In two days we provided consultations for 383 patients, treating complaints common to refugee populations around the world- diarrhea, eye and skin infections and fevers, often a sign of malaria. Meanwhile our nutrition team started moving from tent to tent to screen children under five for malnutrition. Worryingly of the 545 children screened we found 76 with moderate acute malnutrition and 20 with severe acute malnutrition. The most severe cases were immediately referred to a therapeutic nutrition programme run by MSF, but there are currently no supplies to give much needed specially formulated food for those at risk of severe malnutrition. As a result we are expecting more children to become severely malnourished in the short term and to be at risk from diseases that can ravage weakened immune systems. The high rates of diarrhea make the risks even higher.

For International Medical Corps staff, these challenges and conditions are familiar from our long experience of emergency responses and all of these problems could be relatively easily addressed if the site was connected to a road network that allowed movement in the rainy season. Instead several days of rain have left us cut off and operating in flooded fields. The black cotton soil has turned in to a glutinous mess which sticks to your boots, adding an extra 20lbs to your weight and making the simplest task hard work. Staying clean has become almost impossible.

The weather has also interrupted our supply chain. The road from Malakal, capital of Upper Nile State, to Yusuf Batil Camp has been closed for days due to the rain, preventing us from importing essential supplies to build clinics and even to get fuel for the vehicles. UN flights from Malakal have also stopped landing at the nearby airfield because of the risk of crashing on the wet and muddy surface.

International Medical Corps staff and volunteers are making huge efforts to overcome the many challenges caused by this extreme environment to save lives, which are now in even greater danger as a result of the weather. Leading the team has been an incredible privilege and I am proud to work with people who are so dedicated to helping others that they are willing and eager to overcome incredibly challenging conditions to deliver lifesaving services to this community. 

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