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9 signs of humanitarian catastrophe we can't ignore

South Sudan, April 24, 2014

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  • Thousands of people rushed to the U.N. base in Bentiu after violence erupted in the city last week. The site is not yet set up to accommodate such a large-scale humanitarian intervention, and recent rains have already flooded the area, exacerbating already inadequate living conditions. Photo: Javanshir Hajiyev/Mercy Corps
  • New arrivals to the site slept in our temporary learning spaces until they could be relocated. Activities have since been resumed in the unoccupied spaces that weren't also damaged by the flooding. Photo: Javanshir Hajiyev/Mercy Corps
  • We're trucking clean water to the site every day. Photo: Javanshir Hajiyev/Mercy Corps

“The whole situation is a disgrace to mankind. We have to speak out,” Mathieu Rouquette, South Sudan country director for Mercy Corps, reported from Juba this week.

Ongoing conflict took an appalling turn last week, when civilians were targeted in two attacks — one on a U.N. base in Bor and another a two-day assault on Bentiu, the capital of Unity State and a strategic oil town. Reports indicate that around 500 people were murdered in the town’s markets, hospitals and places of worship.

The atrocities are the latest outbreak in violence that has plagued the country since fighting between government and opposition forces broke out in mid-December.

“There is an imminent risk of counterattack and increasingly brutal fighting,” said Rouquette.

With more people losing their homes and access to food and water, the urgent needs are massive.

According to Rouquette, humanitarian organizations, including Mercy Corps, are going to be overwhelmed and will not be able to meet the needs of the South Sudanese people without additional support. "A surge in humanitarian assistance will not be enough, and will not be a substitute to a genuine political process," he added.

Why this growing crisis can’t be overlooked any longer:

  • At least one million people have fled their homes in just 131 days — and the violence is only getting worse. Some families have sought refuge at U.N. bases throughout the country, while others are displaced in makeshift shelters in fields or under trees.

  • Tens of thousands of people rushed to the U.N. base in Bentiu to escape the clashes last week, swelling the population to as many as 25,000 IDPs (internally displaced persons). The new wave of people sought shelter wherever they could — even sleeping in our temporary learning spaces — and put added strain on already-scarce resources there. Update as of May 28: There are now 38,000 IDPs sheltering at the base — that's an additional 13,000 people have fled there in just the last month.

  • An outbreak of life-threatening waterborne disease will be extremely hard to avoid at the site, which is not yet structured to accommodate a large humanitarian effort and lacks proper sanitation facilities. The danger only multiplies as ongoing conflict forces more people to run for their lives.

  • Clean water supply for families living in IDP sites is dangerously below the daily requirement of 15 liters per person, per day. On some days, availability has been as low as 1 liter per person.

  • Because of the danger on the ground and the intensifying rainy season, there is no road access into Bentiu, where humanitarian conditions are worst. The city is currently only accessible by air.

  • This is only the start of the six-month rainy season, which will eventually make most of the country’s roads impassable and completely isolate many families in urgent need of food, water and medical care.

  • Aid organizations are in a race against time to pre-position critical supplies in these areas, but they face rapidly growing need, already-limited access and dangerous operating conditions.

  • A third of the country’s population is at risk of famine by the end of the year. Food distributions have been disrupted and people are unable to access their fields in time for planting season. Already, displaced families in some areas are surviving on scavenged leaves and roots.

  • SEE PHOTOS: Families fleeing violence now face food shortages

  • Almost 5 million people are currently in need of humanitarian assistance. Only 1.2 million have been reached so far.

Our teams are addressing the need for water and sanitation at the IDP site in Bentiu, providing daily deliveries of clean water, building latrines and promoting good hygiene to keep families healthy amid increasingly dire sanitation conditions.

We’ve also built child-friendly spaces and temporary learning spaces to provide vulnerable youth with a safe place to learn and process trauma. Additional temporary learning spaces are now being set up to accommodate the growing population there.

And in relatively safer places in southern Unity State, like Ganyiel, we’re distributing seeds and tools so vulnerable families can plant crops before it’s too late and prevent widespread food shortages from overtaking the troubled nation next year.

Read our official statement about the crisis in South Sudan ▸

How you can help

Make a gift to support Mercy Corps' emergency response work in South Sudan and around the world. You'll help families survive the crisis here and the hardships they face in many of the world's toughest places. Donate today ▸