BENTIU, South Sudan – It is still tense here after last week's heavy fighting, but there is some movement in the streets. The situation of the displaced people who are sheltering inside the UN compound is complicated by the sheer numbers of people seeking safety, the weather and uncertainty.
There was heavy rain yesterday and some trucks bringing supplies to the UN Protection of Civilians area, (PoC) adjacent to their compound got stuck in the mud. The number of people sheltering here has grown in just a few days from 8,000 to 22,000 the majority of whom are women and children. There are not enough latrines for so many people. For the moment, we are focused on saving lives. The most pressing need is for water and sanitation facilities and CARE and other humanitarian actors are scaling up our operations in the UN compound to meet these new challenges. As a result, the humanitarian situation inside the compound is improving day by day. CARE's response is looking also at the different needs of women, children, men and boys and ensuring our response addresses these different needs.
Women and children worst hit
These people have been through so much. As you can image, the mood is not very good. It is especially bad for women and children but it is incredible how well the women are coping with everything. As usual, they are carrying most of the weight and bearing the biggest burden. They have been caught up in the violence. They have lost their homes, parents, relatives and their way of life has been turned upside down. We are doing everything we can to alleviate the suffering and progress is being made despite the difficult conditions and the threat of more fighting. We hope to get some mobile clinics working outside the UN compound in Bentiu town in the next few days, and these will focus particularly on child nutrition and women's health issues.
The clinic inside the PoC has treated hundreds of patients in the past few days and our staff continue to support the health clinics and are working long hours to help clear the back log there. The number of people waiting for treatment is going down, but there is a chance we will get even more displaced people here if the fighting starts again. We will gradually scale up our work in the health clinic, do sanitation interventions and promote hygiene messages aimed at preventing water-borne disease and other diseases. That is a very big concern with such overcrowding and with the rains. CARE also continues its nutrition work, including feeding in-patients in the health center.
Escalating humanitarian situation
Nutrition is going to be an issue not just here with the displaced people at the UN compound, but across wide swaths of the country that have been hard hit by the conflict. There has been talk of a potential famine in some areas of South Sudan in 2015 because people have not been able to plant crops. The humanitarian situation here is as bad as anything I've ever seen, and unfortunately it will get worse. Even as the situation deteriorates CARE is committed to remain in Bentiu with the other humanitarian actors and ensure that the vulnerable men, women, girls and boys continue to receive critical life-saving assistance.
About the author: Alain Lapierre is an Emergency Team Leader for CARE International