Tens of thousands of people who fled violence in Bentiu are now battling with the rainy season as they attempt to make waterproof shelters in the nearby overcrowded UN base. Many are drinking contaminated water and sharing one latrine among 220 people. Dismal hygiene conditions and the need for clean water are putting a huge strain on resources.
James Ray, Medair’s Water and Sanitation Advisor on the ground, reports:
What is Medair doing in Bentiu?
We are helping people displaced by the recent fighting in Bentiu. As a result of the violence, people fled to the UN base, which has increased in number from 8,000 to 22,500 people.* Once we arrived, we did a rapid assessment and determined that the situation in the camp was at emergency level. There was no more than one latrine per 350 people. After a few days of working with other organisations to build more, there is now one per 220 people,* but the standard in emergency response is one per 20 people. We are working with other organisations toward a goal of providing one per 50 people for this initial period.
What challenges does the rainy season bring for these displaced people?
Shelter is a challenge. The shelters that people have constructed are not waterproof, so many are asking for plastic sheeting for protection from the rain, though I think they are using local methods to cope with this too. Also, people are drinking standing, contaminated rainwater. This is contaminated primarily because of open defecation. I have seen people bathing and playing in the water they drink. The biggest needs are clean water, latrines, and hygiene training so people know how to clean jerry cans and use latrines.
What is the mood like?
People seem relaxed in the base. They are cautious about leaving the camp because of security reasons, but they do leave. Given the circumstances, the mood is generally good. There were church worship services happening on Sunday. Music can be heard and there is a vibrant market. But people are uneasy about leaving the UN base for fear of further attacks.
How has the fighting affected Bentiu?
The most obvious is the population displacement. There are reports that dead bodies remain in the streets. I saw two on my way here from the airport. I have not been into town personally. However, water trucks travel there on a daily basis and people from the town go back there, though they admit leaving the UN base is risky.
Medair has committed to construct 180 latrines and install a 20,000-litre water system with 18 taps which connect to a borehole. Our team is also working on improving drainage to eliminate standing water at a separate water system comprised of two 10,000-litre water tanks. At each of these water points, Medair is working to install an additional 20,000-litre water storage system.
South Sudan became an independent nation on 9 July 2011. Medair has been present in the region since 1991 responding to emergencies and providing health care, nutrition, safe water, sanitation, hygiene, non-food items, and shelter to those most in need.
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Recent photos of Medair’s work in Bentiu, Malakal, and other areas are available for use upon request.
For more information on Medair’s South Sudan programme, visit medair.org/south-sudan
Medair’s South Sudan programme is supported by the E.C Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, the United States Agency for International Development, Common Humanitarian Fund, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), and private donors.
Medair helps people who are suffering in remote and devastated communities around the world survive crises, recover with dignity, and develop skills to build a better future.
*Figures are taken from OCHA.