Thousands of families have fled ongoing fighting in Sudan and are now sheltering in camps in Maban county, in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state. The ICRC has distributed aid to 80,000 refugees and is working to improve access to clean water.
The ICRC launched a project in September to strengthen the existing water distribution network in Yusuf Batil refugee camp, one of four camps in Maban county, close to the Sudanese border, and the worst hit by water shortages. Some 37,000 people have found refuge in Yusuf Batil. The ICRC is installing piping, storage tanks, tap stands and pumps, especially on the camp's peripheries where water is least available.
"People are not getting enough clean water in the camp. Hygiene suffers as a result and this has contributed to the spread of diseases such as diarrhoea," said Adrian Zimmermann, who is in charge of ICRC assistance programmes in South Sudan. "Together with other humanitarian organizations we are working to increase water supply and we are also putting tap stands closer to communities to stop people having to walk so far for water."
In Jamam refugee camp, also in Maban county, the ICRC has now completed installing a 15-kilometre water distribution pipeline to help maintain a regular supply to the refugees there. Jamam is a natural transit point for the flow of newly arrived refugees, which has largely subsided since the last major influx in May and June. "Those strong enough to have made the journey from Sudan in recent weeks and months waded through waste-high muddy water to get there," explained Mr Zimmermann. "However, now the dry season is upon us, it will be easier for people to move. There is a real possibility more refugees reach the camps."
In all four refugee camps in Maban country, jerrycans, buckets, soap and washing basins were also provided in an effort to improve hygiene practices. "We are trying to ensure that families collect and store water safely," said Mr Zimmermann.
In addition, the ICRC has distributed household items to the most needy families in the four camps. A total of 80,000 refugees received additional clothing, tarpaulin, blankets, mosquito nets and sleeping mats to protect against the elements and help prevent malaria and respiratory infections.
Restoring contact between family members
Many refugees in Maban county left family members behind as they fled fighting. Together with the South Sudan Red Cross, the ICRC has helped over 1,300 people get back in touch with their relatives since the beginning of 2012 by giving them the opportunity to make phone calls. "These calls are often their first contact with family since leaving home," said Marc Thorens, ICRC delegate for the Upper Nile area. "It's a voice at the end of the line with the news they're still alive."
In addition, this week the ICRC reunited two unaccompanied children in Congo with their families in South Sudan, while eight unaccompanied children in South Sudan travelled to Congo to be reunited with their families. All the children were separated from their loved ones after having fled their villages during an attack by an armed group.
With ICRC support, the South Sudan Red Cross has recently expanded its family tracing services department. Dedicated staff are now in place in branches across the country, and work closely with a network of Red Cross volunteers to locate people who have lost contact with their relatives and try to put them back in touch. There is vast need for family tracing services in the country, with many South Sudanese remaining in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, in camps in western Ethiopia and a large diaspora in other parts of the world.
Law of armed conflict training for army legal advisers
At the end of October, the ICRC held the first-ever course on the law of armed conflict for the South Sudan army's legal advisers. South Sudan is the latest nation to have signed up to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, and the army has a key role in ensuring the country meets its commitments to protect and respect civilians, the wounded and detainees.
Closing the one-week course, Lieutenant-General Ayuen Alier Jongroor, the army's deputy chief of staff for training, insisted on the importance of the legal advisers in guiding commanders during military operations. "As the army transforms into a more professional force, this course demonstrates our commitment to ensuring these rules become second nature to our fighting units. The law of armed conflict underpins all our operations," said Lt-Gen. Ayuen, who recently attended a high-level international workshop on rules governing military operations in Kuala Lumpur, organized by the ICRC and the Malaysian Armed Forces.