South Sudan army attacks spark cholera risk in country’s east

Villagers fleeing from President Salva Kiir’s troops in South Sudan’s Jonglei state face a new threat — cholera. Medical workers report 30 cases of watery diarrhoea, suspected to be cholera, in the Pieri area, one of several refuges for people displaced by the military offensive.

The president ordered attacks on the Jonglei front earlier this year, sparking fighting that displaced approximately 100,000 people since mid-February.

Hungry, traumatized and homeless, the displaced at Pieri belong to the Nuer tribe that Kiir has targeted since December 2013 after being challenged by his then deputy Riek Machar for leadership of the ruling SPLM party.

“I left running – there was no time to take anything,” says William, 41, a father of five who fled Yuai on February 15th. “They were firing their guns in the town. They killed the women, the girls, everybody in the town, and they also raped women. They burnt some of the tukuls, they took the cattle and they even destroyed the boreholes.”

Feeding on leaves, William and his family trekked to safety in Pieri, farther to the east, where they hoped they would be safe from government troops. But William’s five-year-old son died last week — most likely of cholera, according to medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

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Map by UN OCHA

The first suspected cases of cholera were reported on May 9th. Health workers scattered by the government offensive, including MSF staff who fled from their hospital at Yuai, have regrouped in Pieri seeking to stem the outbreak of cholera and treat widespread malnutrition.

MSF workers surveying the displaced population at Pieri estimate that a third of children under five suffer acute malnutrition while 12 percent are severely malnourished, at risk of starvation. Food handouts by aid workers have not been enough for the population, MSF says.

‘We got some food two weeks ago, but this is not enough.’

According to the United Nations’ humanitarian headquarters in Juba, aid workers have given out 15-day food rations to about 82,000 people in Kaikuiny, Pieri and Yuai, while preparations are underway for handouts elsewhere in Jonglei too.

“We got some food two weeks ago,” says Elisabeth, 45, from Yuai, “but this is not enough, and we are also sharing with the people who are not registered for the food distribution. When there is no food, we eat the leaves on the trees.”

Michael Keizer, MSF’s deputy head of mission in South Sudan, says the risk of cholera is increasing due to the dire situation of the people and limited access to water. “We are very afraid that the situation will get worse. With the rainy season coming, providing humanitarian assistance will get even more complicated,” he says.

The aid group set up three primary healthcare clinics, seven rehydration points and a number of chlorinated water points in Pieri area to try to stem the outbreak.

In the meantime, the UN reports that another government attack in South Sudan’s famine-struck north interrupted humanitarian operations. OCHA, the coordinating body for the humanitarian response, says in its latest bulletin dated May 28th that the attack took place in northern Mayendit county while an inter-agency mission was in the area to hand out nutritional supplements, survival kits, emergency seeds, fishing kits and other supplies.

“Humanitarians are reviewing their operations in northern Mayendit following an attack on Luom in May which saw homes looted, burned and destroyed, and the area’s Primary Health Centre reportedly looted,” reads the UN update.

Most civilians in the area fled to the swamps for safety.


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