27 June 2012 - Sanitation and hygiene in Unity State's Yida refugee camp have become radically worse as its population grows rapidly, according to UN officials.
The surge was putting huge pressure on limited water and sanitation resources, said the UN Refugee Agency's (UNHCR) head of office in the Unity capital Bentiu, Marie-Helene Verney.
“The refugee population in Yida has more than doubled since the end of April this year, when there were 27,500,” Ms. Verney said. “Currently we have 58,375 refugees in the settlement.”
Yida lies in South Sudan close to its disputed border with Sudan as well as conflict areas in the latter's Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states.
The main challenge was to scale up numbers of latrines and boreholes to match the pace of refugee arrival, the UNHCR head said, adding that diarrhea had become the main cause of death among refugees.
“Agencies are working hard to increase facilities and services in order to keep up with demand,” Ms. Verney said. “At the same time, health partners are reporting increasing cases of diarrhea among refugees, raising grave concerns about the risk of disease outbreak.”
Tackling the situation was complicated by a lack of basic infrastructure and local technical capacity in the region, she said, citing difficulties in transporting drilling equipment to Yida in rainy season conditions.
When it rains, the Pariang-Yida road is closed for all traffic and only passable after three dry days, while the Bentiu-Yida road can only be used by light vehicles. As a result, delivery of humanitarian aid by road has been rendered virtually impossible.
New partners with expertise in water, sanitation and hygiene are drilling six new boreholes to complement the existing six and building another 900 community latrines. Large-scale health and hygiene promotion campaigns and education on vector control and transmission will be conducted to promote behavioral change.
South Sudan is currently hosting close to 170,000 Sudanese refugees in Upper Nile and Unity states. UNHCR is appealing for $186 million for the associated emergency response operations.