NAIROBI, Kenya – Tens of thousands of refugees in South Sudan's Jamam camp must be urgently moved to a new site to escape life-threatening water shortages and fatal diseases, an aid agency said Friday.
The boreholes that provide the water for the camp in South Sudan's Upper Nile state can only serve 16,500 of the 37,000 refugees there, said Oxfam's spokesman Alun McDonald. Relief agencies also expect more refugees fleeing the recent South Sudan and Sudan border conflict will be taking up residence in Jamam, he said.
South Sudan became the world's newest country in July 2011 following independence from Sudan. But the two countries are in dispute over the sharing of oil revenues and demarcation of an ill-defined border. Earlier this week Sudan repeatedly bombed South Sudan. The U.N. said the aerial bombardments killed 16 civilians.
"We are fast running out of time and options in the midst of a huge humanitarian crisis," said Pauline Ballaman, head of Oxfam's operations in Jamam. "We have drilled for water and carried out a geological survey, but there is simply not enough ground water available to sustain the growing number of people who need it."
She said women have to queue for hours in the burning sun just to collect a fraction of the water they need, and the situation is getting more desperate by the day and the only solution is to move them. Oxfam is concerned that tensions over competition for water are growing between the refugee community and permanent residents.
Heavy rains in the coming weeks will make it difficult to deliver aid to the camp, leaving refugees exposed to diseases such as cholera, said McDonald. He urged all aid agencies and local authorities to prepare a new site for about 23,000 people.
Many of the refugees in Jamam camp were fleeing an ongoing conflict in the Blue Nile state in Sudan. More than 100,000 people have been forced to flee Sudan because of the fighting in Blue Nile state and another conflict in South Kordofan, Oxfam said. Hundreds of thousands more have been displaced within Sudan.
Sudan says it is fighting rebels in Blue Nile and South Kordofan who are being funded by South Sudan. Sudan President Omar Al-Bashir last week threatened to topple the South Sudan government after accusing the south of trying to take down his Khartoum-based government.
Both South Kordofan and Blue Nile are considered northern territory although many of their inhabitants fought for the south during the region's more than two decade north-south civil war in which more than 2 million people died. They are also ethnically linked to the people in the south.
The black African tribes of South Sudan and the mainly Arab north battled two civil wars over more than five decades, with the latest war from 1983-2005.
A peace deal ended that war and South Sudan became its own country in July after a successful independence referendum. But there have been lingering disputes over border demarcation and oil-sharing revenues between the two countries.
The most recent violence began after South Sudanese troops attacked and captured the disputed oil-rich town of Heglig earlier this month. Sudan then bombed parts of South Sudan and sent ground troops into the country Sunday, days after South Sudan said it was withdrawing its troops from Heglig. Sudan says it has since recaptured it.