A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
Oxfam media officer Geno Teofilo reports on urgent humanitarian needs – including shelter from the upcoming rainy season – during a visit to South Sudanese refugee centers in northern Uganda.
I spent much of last weekend in refugee camps in northern Uganda, where South Sudanese families who have fled the conflict in their young country are sheltering. Refugees continue to cross the border, though not in the massive exodus as before. According to differing UN and NGO sources, estimates are that 50 – 150 refugees per day continue to arrive in northern Uganda. Some are avoiding border posts and entering through other routes. Since the fighting began in South Sudan, the total number has risen to over 69,000 refugees in Uganda.
'We need shelter'
The new refugee arrivals are being received and slowly registered, though needs have overstretched capacities. The majority are women and children, who urgently need aid for life’s necessities. One widow told me, “We need shelter, food, hospitals and schools.”
The greatest need is for shelter. While those who arrived here in December are in some kind of shelter, new arrivals have no choice but to sleep under the stars. Camps are receiving clean water from some agencies such as Oxfam, but there is not enough, and most conflicts in the refugee camps take place at overcrowded water points. The need for latrines and sanitation is even greater. Education for most children is unavailable. Alarmingly, mosquito nets are non-existent, I didn’t see a single one, and there is malaria here.
Rains bring disease
With the rainy season coming next month, poor sanitation, a measles outbreak, and with recent confirmation by the Ugandan Ministry of Health of a new meningitis outbreak in the region, there are concerns that the health situation will deteriorate, with more outbreaks of disease. “When rain comes there will be breeding grounds for mosquitoes. We have to take malaria seriously,” said George Okumu, of Oxfam partner ACORD in the town of Adjumani.
Some vaccinations are ongoing. The Uganda government, UN agencies and NGOs are all responding, but as often happens in these situations, needs are greater than available resources. Most international aid donated for this crisis is being sent into South Sudan, and of course that aid is needed. But there are also these refugees who have fled the country, and the international community has hardly taken note of them.Oxfam water truck, Rhino refugee camp, Uganda. Photo: Geno Teofilo/Oxfam
I saw a bulldozer plowing up brush outside Adjumani to make room for more arrivals, so these refugee camps will continue to grow. The world’s major donors must know that the urgent needs of these refugees are not being met. The Ugandan government and host communities have provided refugee families with plots of land, but if there is not enough long term support for these families, potential opportunities for the refugees to help themselves will be lost.
Oxfam is there
Oxfam has been responding with a large clean water program, and is currently distributing camp stoves to the most vulnerable families. Soon, a cash for work road building program will begin, to give much needed income to many families. Seeds and agricultural kits are also being planned. We also have a small computer lab in one camp, teaching basic computer and internet skills.
Oxfam and partner organizations would like to do more to help these refugees in northern Uganda, but unfortunately this refugee crisis remains seriously underfunded. We aim to scale up our programs, but this can only come about if we receive more support.
They are survivors
These families who have fled from South Sudan are not just helpless refugees. They are capable and resilient people. They are survivors of not just the present conflict, but they also survived the decades long war in Sudan that preceded it. Their hopes for their new country are being denied by circumstances beyond their control, and by an uncaring international community.
With other conflicts and disasters elsewhere in the world, there may be a feeling of ‘donor fatigue’ among more affluent nations. But these South Sudanese refugees in Uganda are equally deserving of aid. They deserve adequate support, so that they can live healthy lives, with dignity.
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