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Misery stalks South Sudan refugees in camps

By Vision Reporter

Added 13th July 2014

Nyayoul Gach was first driven from her home in South Sudan because of violence, but escaped into Ethiopia because of hunger, unable to feed her five children who were rapidly wasting away.

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GAMBELA - Nyayoul Gach was first driven from her home in South Sudan because of violence, but escaped into Ethiopia because of hunger, unable to feed her five children who were rapidly wasting away.

Now in the caked mud settlements of western Ethiopia, she faces further misery: hunger and disease stalk the crowded camps, and she wonders whether her life is better than the one she fled in war-ravaged South Sudan.

"I'm really worried about my family because I'm here wondering what to do for survival," she said, clutching her wailing baby who has malaria.

"I would like to go to South Sudan but the situation is not good, but if the situation is not good here either, then I might as well go back," she said grimly.

The civil war, which started as a political feud between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar, has already displaced more than 1.5 million people like Gach, and the numbers are expected to grow as famine sets in.

Aid agencies say $1 billion (735 million euros) is needed to feed and care for the mushrooming refugee population, already underserved in the rapidly growing camps.

Bayang Lual said he came to Ethiopia in search of food, like many of the 166,000 other refugees who have poured into the country since fighting erupted in December.

"When the war broke out, every house, every home was burned down, so all the food was destroyed. We didn't have anything to eat so that's why we ran," said the emaciated father of three, recounting that his seven-year-old son was killed in the fighting.

"I came here to seek help because we had no food at home," he added, speaking at the busy registration centre at the South Sudan border.

Lual is now searching for his wife and surviving children who were separated from him as they fled from Upper Nile, the oil-rich northern state and one of the areas hardest hit by the war.

Luxury hotels

Emergency teams in Ethiopia are scrambling to care for people like Lual as up to 1,000 refugees stream into the country daily amid persistent funding shortfalls. A new camp that opened in May is already full, and the UN refugee agency said additional settlements are desperately needed.

Malnourishment and malaria prey on the vulnerable, with severe malnutrition at five percent and malaria rapidly increasing as the rainy season sets in.

"I've seen the situation in some other emergencies, but this is one of the worst," said Doctors Without Borders (MSF) emergency coordinator Foura Sassou Madi.

Nyakach Duoth worries about her five children as conditions deteriorate in the camp. She has lost weight since fleeing South Sudan three months ago, and said her children suffer from chest infections.

"Look at me, I am too thin. I was not like this before. But I have no food here," she said, her bony chest visible under a tattered yellow dress.

The two sacks of grain she receives monthly allow her family to eat what she said was "just the minimum", but she does not dare return to her home in Upper Nile where she fears conditions are worse.

There is little hope that the refugees will go back soon, with scarce food available since most farmers have missed this year's harvest because of the war.

Peace talks between warring parties have stalled indefinitely, with both sides refusing to attend the latest round of negotiations in luxury hotels in Addis Ababa that have made no progress since January and have already cost $17 million (12 million euros).

Both Kiir and Machar marked three years of independence for their young nation last week, urging one another back to the negotiating table to halt the deepening crisis.

But for many in the camps, there is slim hope for the future.

"I don't like to see my people here. Life is very bad here, but since the situation doesn't allow me to leave, I have to stay here, but we are not happy," Duoth said.

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Misery stalks South Sudan refugees in camps

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