Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Situation is Overwhelming for Refugees in Uganda

Post by Jimmy Tuhaise, Emergency Response Manager, Plan International

After a long journey to Nyumanzi camp in Uganda, where Plan International is responding to the needs of over 23,000 vulnerable refugees from South Sudan living in appalling conditions, it might have been easy to feel tired. Instead, on arrival, I felt deeply touched and forgot about my own exhaustion – I am filled with the urge to work, although a little depressed by the limited resources.

Women and children line up to
collect water at Baratuku Resettlement Camp
Seeing thousands of babies and children sleeping on bare ground under the trees, playing under thorny bushes, is heartbreaking. Open defecation is everywhere and the kids step in feces as they play.

There are massive lines at the only two water points and people wait for hours to get one jerry can of water. While a few agencies and the government of Uganda are doing their best to help, the situation in the camps is overwhelming.

Speaking to a couple of mothers, I was deeply moved by their experiences. They had walked over 124 miles from as far as Jonglei state in South Sudan to save themselves and their families. All their belongings were destroyed or looted; they arrived with nothing and have received little support. One of their main concerns is the fact that the school term begins in a week and yet there is no school building or any sign of one being set up for their children.

Most refugee parents were not able to go to school because of the 20-year conflict in South Sudan, and they feel the same is now happening to their children. Mothers leave their children unattended for hours as they stand in line for water. A local elder from the host community complains about the uninvited visitors walking over three miles from the camp to access their community bore hole; he is worried that it may get broken with the extra use.

I visited a a newly created settlement the next day in Baratuku, and found the situation to be worse. It had rained the night before and people were sleeping in the open. The few personal belongings they managed to carry with them had gotten wet. As in Nyumanzi camp, there were long lines at the water points, people sleeping under the trees without mattresses, very limited access to latrines, no health center, no child friendly spaces at all.

Plan’s technical WASH engineer confirmed a high water yield in the area as the camp is not far from the river Nile – so drilling boreholes here could be more sustainable than trucking in water.

Plan International has deployed a team of experienced emergency personnel from all over the organization to help. However, the limited funding available cannot do much to solve this overwhelming situation. It is challenging to be ready to help, but have no funding to do so.

Plan International is ready to provide support in areas of water, sanitation, hygiene and nutrition, construct latrines and provide education and psychosocial support to traumatized children. We can’t stop wars and natural disasters, but we can save lives, secure children’s futures, and alleviate suffering for the poor and the displaced.

You can help those affected by the fighting in South Sudan and prevent greater tragedy. Visit Planusa.org/SouthSudan.

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