On 15 December 2013, violent clashes erupted in neighbouring South Sudan which rapidly deteriorated into a full-out conflict spreading to the eastern states of South Sudan. According to UNHCR1 figures, up to 90,375 South Sudanese asylum seekers have arrived in Gambella, Ethiopia mainly through the Pagak and Akobo‐Tergol border entry points since the influx began. As the crisis continues, the physical condition of arriving refugees is deteriorating and the prevalence of malnutrition is reportedly high.
Through the coordination meetings taking place in Gambela region, with the Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) who is coordinating the overall humanitarian assistance, the main shortcomings in the current response related to lack of preparedness. Mechanisms are in place but the extent of services and means are not sufficient to accommodate the large influx. Also, the priority for humanitarian assistance in the coming weeks is to satisfy basic services at entry points and in the refugee camps in terms of food, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), health and shelter. However, these are over stretched due to the recent population increases. Rapid registration, relocation, and expanded camp capacity are also key concerns. As services are stabilizing in the camps, the main concern of UNCHR and partners is to accelerate the relocation of refugees.
According to UNHCR 71.8% of the adult arriving population are women, while 66.9% of all arrivals are children2 . These two groups have previously been identified as particularly vulnerable, profoundly and disproportionally impacted by problems of security and protection. Further complicating the situation are the needs of the host communities who are already living on a minimum subsistence level, and with the arrival of the additional refugees from South Sudan, this puts additional pressure on already limited resources in the area.
While the Government of Ethiopia , non-governmental NGOs, and the U.N. are providing humanitarian assistance and planning for a possible caseload of approximately 150,000 refugees in the coming months, there is a general shortage in capacity to meet the needs in terms of registration, relocation and provision of services outside of camps. In the meantime, the new influx has led to depletion of stocks in camps unprepared for such large numbers.
According to ARRA more than 40,000 individuals are now living in Leitchour camp. Furthermore, 85 to 90% these families are female headed households. There is also a new site that will be created: Leitchour II (opposite to the existing Leitchour I camp). People living in the old site and newly arrived households will move there.
Overall, in Leitchour as well as in the other camp sites, four main areas of intervention have been identified: WASH, food, health and shelter. In terms of WASH: the immediate priority for the next three months is to increase access to potable water and emergency latrines to asylum seekers. Assessments indicate that a lack of water collection containers is affecting the capacity of households to collect and store clean water. Furthermore, water is being trucked to Leitchour camp, providing about 7 litres per person per day - far below the SPHERE standard of 15 litres per person per day. As of 10 March, the digging of four out of five planned shallow wells was completed.
In relation to food, the current WFP food pipelines cannot cover the needs of the current total numbers of refugees hosted in Ethiopia (430,000). Shortfalls are already being experienced and are anticipated to increase with the expected new arrivals.
For health: due to increasing numbers of suspected measles cases (38 suspected cases reported in Pagak) a mass vaccination campaign was held between 27 February and 3 March and reached a total of 22,678 children in Akobo, Pagak, Leitchour and Kule. A mass middle upper arm circumference (MUAC) screening in Leitchour camp (screening 5,449 children) was held on 8-10 March for children between 6 and 59 months showed global acute malnutrition (GAM) of 18.5% and severe acute malnutrition (SAM) of 5.5%. Relocation of malnourished children and pregnant and lactating women are being prioritised. Poor sanitation conditions pose a major public risk, including communicable disease outbreaks in refugee- hosting sites.
Finally, in relation to shelter: construction of four out of ten planned temporary communal shelters have been completed, increasing the camp’s reception facilities.
Presently, five organizations are implementing activities at Leitchour camp in the fields of WASH Danish Refugee Council (DRC) and Lutheran World Federation (LWF), nutrition Action Against Hunger (ACF), health Medicine Sans Frontieres (MSF) and shelter Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). ERCS is involved in WASH as well as health and nutrition with both software (in collaboration with IFRC and the Swiss Red Cross) and hardware (in collaboration with ICRC) components. At the field level, these agencies are coordinated through the mechanisms of a “Standards Operating Procedures” document which was prepared by ARRA and UNHCR, and highlights the roles of the different partners involved in the camp, the tasks of the community outreach workers as well as the number of human resources needed in relation to the camp population.
This DREF operation began in February with the health and WASH needs assessment conducted by ERCS. In Mid-March 100 volunteers (50 in WASH and 50 in emergency health) had been trained. However, the commencement of the activities were delayed as a severe fuel shortage experienced in March in the region greatly affected access and the movement of vehicles and staff. In addition, negotiations on the ￼ground have been done with responders to the needs, as well as identifying key messages amongst the actors involved in WASH, health and nutrition (which has now been agreed upon in April). This will give a better and more coherent approach in information to report against though it also contributed to the delay. As a result of the delays, this operation update extends the operation timeframe for two months to allow implementation of the planned activities. In addition, emerging additional needs will require a revision to the planned activities and subsequent budget, and this will be detailed further in a second operation update to be issued in the coming weeks once finalized and approved.