Juba — António Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on Monday decried what he described as the "sharply" worsening humanitarian situation in South Sudan's Upper Nile State where the refugee agency (UNHCR) and humanitarian partners are trying to contain a "sudden increase" in refugees from Sudan's Blue Nile state.
An estimated 35,000 refugees, UNHCR says, have arrived in Upper Nile over the past three weeks, adding to 70,000 that reportedly existed in the area. More refugees, according to the agency, are expected to continue arriving as they flee fighting in the region.
"This is a dramatic change in an already difficult humanitarian situation," said Guterres, adding that, "Not only are refugee numbers suddenly much higher, but the condition that many of these people are in is shockingly bad. Some have been eating tree leaves to survive along the way."
UNHCR says it has stepped up efforts to assist these refugees, providing buses and tractor-trailer to move people to safer locations at Rum and Yusuf Batil, despite the difficult road conditions worsened by recent rains. The refugee agency also believes most of the new arrivals in Upper Nile are too close to the border for their safety.
"Pressure is enormous," the UNHCR chief acknowledges, adding, "Despite the rain, this is an area where there's simply not enough safe drinking water; This, and the security situation, makes it all the more urgent that people are relocated fast to better protected places."
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.
However, with the ever increasing numbers of Sudanese refugees in the country, UNHCR has expressed concerns over the huge logistical challenges involved, especially in the delivery of humanitarian aid.