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Critical need for clean water and sanitation as violence continues

South Sudan, March 5, 2014

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Camille Lepage for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Thousands of innocent civilians have been killed and more than 900,000 have been displaced from their homes since violence first erupted in South Sudan in mid-December last year. As fighting continues throughout the country, the humanitarian crisis is reaching massive proportions. Photo: Camille Lepage for Mercy Corps

Despite the ceasefire signed by the South Sudanese government and rebel groups in late January, brutal conflict continues to ravage rural areas of Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei states in northwestern South Sudan.

Immediately after violence erupted between the groups in mid-December 2013, we distributed emergency supplies to 14,000 displaced families in Juba, the country’s capital and the site of initial clashes. See photos ▸

In response to escalating need for humanitarian support, we are now focusing our efforts on Unity State, where fighting continues and the highest number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) are located. We've worked in the area for years and are most concerned about inadequate water and sanitation conditions at these new IDP sites.

“Heavy fighting in Bentiu [the capital of Unity State] during the height of the conflict annihilated basic infrastructure, such as health services and water supplies,” explained our South Sudan Country Director Mathieu Rouquette. “Shops were looted and many destroyed. Nearby water sources are improper for consumption or nonexistent, with most boreholes scorched. The river is a few miles away, but the water is unclean and there are huge protection concerns for women and children, who are usually tasked with fetching water. Under these dire conditions, the clean drinking water our team can provide is lifesaving.”

Since early February we have been delivering 42,000 liters of water per day to the U.N. compound in Bentiu, where many IDPs have sought safety from the surrounding violence.

We're now expanding the work to provide clean water for 35,000 displaced people, as well as building more emergency latrines and promoting hygiene awareness to help prevent the spread of waterborne disease.

We have also established child-friendly spaces and temporary learning spaces where children can participate in creative and educational activities, giving them a safe place to play, continue their education and feel a sense of normalcy despite the crisis around them.

While poor security conditions have limited humanitarian access thus far, the approaching rainy season is also of great concern, as it will isolate 60 percent of the country and exacerbate already poor sanitation conditions in IDP communities.

“Rains will start in a couple weeks. Roads will become impassible and planes won’t be able to land in most places,” Rouquette explained. “Overcrowded temporary settlement areas, many located in flood zones, coupled with heavy rains can easily trigger the outbreak and spread of waterborne diseases."

The U.N. warns that throughout the country up to 7 million people are currently at risk of food insecurity, 2.6 million people are in need of emergency water, sanitation and hygiene support, and millions have been affected by the breakdown in social services.

“We have the ingredients for a catastrophic humanitarian crisis on our hands, with risks of famine and major epidemics,” Rouquette said. “We must continue to reach these vulnerable communities with much needed relief, before some locations are entirely cut off from assistance.”

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 in many of the world's toughest places. Donate today ▸