May 23, 2012 (JUBA) - The numbers of Sudanese refugees crossing the border into South Sudan increased, in the last few days bringing the total currently in Upper Nile State to over 80,000, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said.
The refugees, mainly from Blue Nile State, according to the UN, arrive at the border looking exhausted from long journeys, having walked for several days after fleeing their villages in the wake of continuing fighting between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and rebel group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N).
“Yesterday [Tuesday] we moved the first 400 refugees away from the border. Today [Wednesday] another convoy has left with 400 refugees,” said Frederic Cussigh, UNHCR’s head of operations said in a statement.
He also confirmed that all refugees were receiving medical attention and food parcels to last five days before they leave the border area, with unconfirmed reports saying thousands of refugees are still en-route to South Sudan.
UNHCR expects that the onset of the rainy season is likely to worsen the conditions of roads. A convoy reportedly took four hours to cover a 20km stretch, forcing refugees on board to spend the night in Jamam, Upper Nile.
“They are now on their way to Yusuf Batil. Convoy vehicles require a full day to return to Elfoj for the next round,” noted Cussigh.
The UN refugee agency, according to the statement, has set up 300 tents in Yusuf Batil, the third refugee settlement camp established in Upper Nile after Doro and Jaman to accommodate new arrivals, who are usually registered before non-food items are distributed to them.
Yusuf Batil, it says, was established in a bid to reduce pressure on Jaman’s limited water supply and prevent the possible outbreak of diseases.
With the rapidly growing refugee population, UNHCR notes that availability of potable water remains one of the “critical” issues confronting humanitarian actors in Upper Nile State. The situation, it says, could worsen in South Sudan, where only 5% of the general population, according to UN indicators, has access to a regular supply of clean water.
Meanwhile, a landmark agreement has reportedly been reached among humanitarian partners on the prospect of constructing a 14 km of pipeline to guarantee the continued supply of water to Jamam.
“The situation in Upper Nile is striking. The combination of black cotton soil and lack of adequate drilling equipment and consumables have thus far hampered extensive efforts to alleviate water shortages in refugee settlements,” Andrea Cippa, UNHCR’s regional water and sanitation coordinator notes in the statement.
“As part of the continuing effort to identify water sources, we airlifted two rigs to Yusuf Batil last week following favorable hydrogeological surveillance. We are also continuing drilling efforts in the Doro and Jamam settlements,” he added.
However, to further address the possible outbreak of water-related disease, medical and other humanitarian actors have reportedly drawn up contingency plans, and pre-positioned medical supplies and treatment units.
South Sudan, according to UNHCR, is currently hosting close to 150,000 refugees in the states of Central Equatoria (10,900), Jonglei (3,500), Unity (38,300), Upper Nile (80,000) and Western Equatoria (15,600), with majority of them reportedly originating from Central African Republic (CAR), Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia and Sudan.