Photo: MSF staff measures a child’s height and weight, seeking to determine his level of nutrition. South Sudan 2012 © John Stanmyer/VII Photo
Eyewitnesses to an Emergency
Report from South Sudan
Though it hasn’t gotten much attention, an immense refugee emergency continues to unfold in South Sudan. In the young country’s Unity and Upper Nile states, roughly 170,000 Sudanese refugees are living in camps that were, for much of the summer, sprawling, muddy tracts of hardship and sickness. The refugees had escaped state-sponsored aerial bombardments in their homelands, but MSF’s epidemiological teams documented mortality rates in some of the camps well above, and in some cases double, the World Health Organization’s emergency threshold for refugee situations.
MSF, which had been working among the refugees in Yida, in Unity state, and in Upper Nile state’s Maban County, rapidly scaled up its response, adding scores of international and national staff , taking on tasks—drilling boreholes for water, for instance—normally outside its purview, and working around huge logistical challenges posed by both South Sudan’s war-torn history and the onset of the rainy season.
“It was the most challenging ten weeks of my life. It’s a tragedy, and it was devastating to be there. We saw such high mortality, so many people dying. But also, being there and seeing MSF’s ability to respond quickly and make changes—to really bring about an improvement in the health and lives of the people in Yida—was really incredible. It was an honor to be there,” says MSF nurse John Johnson.