Since violence erupted in South Sudan in mid December, more than 95,000 people have fled to Gambella, in neighbouring Ethiopia, where they arrive exhausted, sick and in desperate need of support.
The Ethiopian Red Cross Society, the ICRC, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Swiss Red Cross are working together to provide the refugees with better access to medical care and clean water, while also promoting good hygiene practices.
"Families, many of them with very small children, walk for days, and sometimes weeks, to reach the safety of Ethiopia," said Ariane Tombet, head of the ICRC delegation in Ethiopia. "They are worn out from the journey, and many arrive sick and in need of immediate aid."
"The fact that life is becoming more difficult in the camps, where there is not enough shelter or water, requires the attention of all humanitarian organizations," said Frehiwot Worku, the secretary-general of the Ethiopian Red Cross. "More and more refugees are arriving every day. The Ethiopian Red Cross and its partners within the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement need to prepare for even greater numbers of refugees who have not yet arrived."
"The rainy season will soon be upon us and with that comes the potential for an increase in water-borne diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea," said Jill Clements, who heads the delegation of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Ethiopia. "It is vital that we work with refugees now to ensure they are aware of some of the measures they can take to help prevent diseases such as these from taking hold."
After assessing conditions in the refugee camps in early March, Red Cross Movement partners sent two fully equipped ambulances to the camps along with two other vehicles. "Red Cross ambulance crews are giving 24-hour service to refugees who need medical attention, while the two additional vehicles are used to transport patients whose condition is not critical," explained Ato Umed Uquay of the Ethiopian Red Cross Gambella branch.
In addition, equipment, medicines, hygiene items and other medical supplies have been donated to Gambella hospital and to Nyinenyang and Itang health centres. In Letchuor camp, 100 volunteers who are refugees themselves have been trained in water and sanitation activities and in emergency health. Approximately 21,000 litres of water is being trucked to Kule camp every day from the town of Itang, more than 8 kilometres away.
Plans are now under way to provide 12,000 of the neediest refugees, including pregnant and lactating women and refugees with disabilities, with fuel-saving stoves, firewood, emergency shelters and other items. In Pagak camp, the entry point from South Sudan, the Red Cross will build five communal shelters, each of which will be able to accommodate up to 300 refugees, and equip them with kitchen sets and sleeping mats.