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South Sudan humanitarian crisis escalates as thousands flee fighting

United Nations, Doctors without Borders said their resources were being stretched by the tens of thousands of refugees looking for help in South Sudan.

Tens of thousands of South Sudanese have fled their homes, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on Wednesday, estimating 75,000 have arrived in Awerial in the past two weeks alone.

Heavy fighting in the town of Bor forced thousands to flee by boat to nearby Awerial in neighboring Lakes State — a town normally home to 10,000 people.

“When we arrived in Awerial,” Mary Aluer, 19, told MSF, “the place was already packed. You put your belongings where there is shade, and you stay there. During the day it is fine, but it gets very cold at night. Many children are sick, mostly suffering from diarrhea.”

MSF South Sudan chief David Nash said clean water is running low, with refugees using the nearby Nile River for drinking, bathing and washing clothes.

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Food and basic necessities are also in great demand, and prices are spiking at local markets. An MSF team is pumping water from the Nile and treating it to provide people with safe drinking water, he said.

“We are seeing about 150 patients every day, most of them suffering from acute watery diarrhea, chest infections, and malaria,” MSF’s Dr. Mussa Ousman said online. “Today we have also set up an inpatient department to deal with severely ill patients and we have secured space for pregnant women to deliver safely.”

The United Nations said on Tuesday that its refugee camps are nearly overwhelmed.

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Around 2,500 people cross the border into Uganda daily to escape the bloodshed. They enter a situation that is already grim, with refugees from a conflict in nearby Democratic Republic of Congo seeking help.

“We still have 8,000 new Congolese arrivals at three reception centres in western Uganda, so our staff and our supplies are stretched,” UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming said.

UNHCR estimates nearly 24,000 South Sudanese have sought refuge in Uganda, and more than 5,000 in Ethiopia.

Those figures pale in comparison to what’s happening inside the country, however. The UN still has 200 staff trying to assist 230,000 displaced South Sudanese in 10 camps.

“We have also been taking on increased responsibilities for the 57,000 civilians taking refuge in 10 UN compounds throughout the country,” Fleming said. “We are helping lead efforts to protect especially vulnerable people like women and children. And we have brought in experts in areas such as site planning and camp management.”

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Fighting began last month between government forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and rebels aligned with his former vice president, Riek Machar.

Both sides are meeting in Ethiopia hoping to resolve the conflict, Agence France-Presse reported; however, a rebel representative said on Wednesday peace talks couldn’t continue until the government released 11 prisoners.

AFP said the high-ranking Machar loyalists haven’t been released because the government might prosecute them for an attempted coup.

That’s now what aid agencies need to hear.

“We’ve got an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe … on top of a situation where we were already aiming to help 3.1 million in South Sudan,” said the UN’s Toby Lanzer, aid chief for South Sudan.

“It is a really critical period for the country. Hostilities just have to end.”

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