Africa: Options Running Out for 37,000 Refugees in South Sudan's Jamam Camp, Oxfam Warns

Photo: Fred Noy/UN Photo
A local farmer harvests sorghum.

Refugees face life-threatening water shortages and need urgent relocation as conflict spreads

Tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees face desperate, life-threatening water shortages and a growing threat of fatal disease in Jamam camp in South Sudan and must be urgently moved to a new site, international agency Oxfam said today. As conflict spreads along the border between Sudan and South Sudan, there are fears that more refugees could arrive in a camp that is already stretched beyond its limits and unable to cope with a further influx.

Extensive work by Oxfam and other organizations has been unable to find enough safe and reliable sources of water to meet the growing needs. Heavy rains in the coming weeks will make delivering aid and relocating the refugees even more difficult, and will further exacerbate an escalating humanitarian crisis, Oxfam said. The rains will increase the threat of diseases such as malaria and cholera, and destroy the flimsy shelters under which new arrivals are sheltering.

"We are fast running out of time and options in the midst of a huge humanitarian crisis. We have drilled for water and carried out a geological survey, but there is simply not enough ground water available to sustain the growing number of people who need it. Women have to queue for hours in the burning sun just to collect a fraction of the water they need, and the situation is getting more desperate by the day. The only solution is for people to be moved urgently," said Pauline Ballaman, head of Oxfam's operations in Jamam.

Since December, nearly 37,000 refugees have arrived in Jamam, fleeing the ongoing conflict in Sudan's Blue Nile state, and more continue to arrive. More than 100,000 people have been forced to flee Sudan because of the fighting in Blue Nile and the parallel conflict in Southern Kordofan, and hundreds of thousands more have been displaced within Sudan.

Oxfam urged all agencies and local authorities to urgently prepare a new safe and secure site for 23,000 people, where long-term water sources can be found.

This region of Upper Nile is one of the most remote and least developed parts of South Sudan and safe drinking water is extremely scarce. The existing boreholes can only provide the recommended amount of water for about 16,500 people, but there is already twice that number in Jamam camp, and families continue to arrive each day. Shortages are also increasing among the several thousand permanent residents of the area. Oxfam is concerned tensions over competition for water are growing between the refugee community and permanent residents.

Ultimately, Oxfam said, the only sustainable solution to the crisis is for all parties to negotiate for long-term peace in Blue Nile, Southern Kordofan and the rest of the border region, so that refugees can return home.

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