The refugees in South Sudan 'cut off from the world'
- 18 August 2012
- From the section Africa
Everyone in this refugee camp in South Sudan knows someone who has died.
The Batil camp residents left Blue Nile, over the border in Sudan, after they say government planes bombed them and the Sudanese army attacked them.
The Sudanese government denies the claims. But more than 100,000 people have arrived in South Sudan's Maban county over the last few months.
Osman Maizet, who walked for many weeks to get to the Batil camp, says he left Blue Nile after he was tortured by Sudanese soldiers.
One of his family members died on the way.
Another, his seven-month-old nephew, died shortly after they arrived.
He is buried in a small hump of earth a short walk from Mr Maizet's tent. The grave is covered with branches, to protect it.
Several other graves on either side make a macabre line-up, one repeated at distressingly small intervals throughout Batil.
Mr Maizet's sorrow may grow beyond the two relatives who have already died.
One of his brothers lies on his side in a bed in the clinic run by aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).
His eyes are closed and from time to time his chest convulses with surprising force; otherwise he gives little sign of being alive.
Doctors believe he has cerebral malaria - the most life-threatening kind - but so far he has not responded to treatment.
Malaria is one of the killers here, but MSF believes most people are dying from diarrhoea.
Clean water is a real problem, as is sanitation, and many of the refugees are too weak to look after themselves properly.
Malnutrition is also a serious problem.
MSF's findings indicate nearly half of children under two years old are malnourished, with 18% of them being in the most severe, potentially life-threatening stage of malnutrition.
Apart from anything else, this makes them much more vulnerable to disease.
The MSF clinic is full of young children crying - but often the ones not making any noise are in the most trouble.
Sadia, wearing a dirty pink dress, is lying on her side, wrapped in a blanket and a foil sheet for warmth.
She is silent, and mainly still. From time to time her mother or a nurse roll her over.
The medical team wants to put her on an IV drip.
Her veins have collapsed so a usually routine procedure becomes tricky.
Eventually the needle goes in, followed by the liquid, and within a few minutes she seems more lively. She even speaks a word or two, asking for some water.
Sadia is suffering from acute malnutrition, and maybe medical complications.
Her mother says they walked for six weeks to get here, eating leaves to survive.
Now that she is in the intensive care section at the clinic, Sadia's chances have improved dramatically.
'Clay soil like glue'
But many people are dying - an average of three to four young children a day, according to MSF's figures.
Batil is on a giant flood plain, and with heavy rains expected the fear is those numbers could get even worse.
It is easy to spot when the rains are on their way.
The clouds darken, and the air becomes heavy.
When the rain falls, almost everything stops.
From inside their white tents stamped with the logo of the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, the refugees can hear the rain drumming on the roof. Outside the clay soil is turning to glue.
After the rains the water struggles to penetrate the soil, leaving large puddles of stagnant water.
This increases the risk of disease - at a time when the refugees are at their most vulnerable.
It also makes helping them even harder.
It is almost impossible to bring food in by road.
"We're basically cut off from the world," says Frederic Cussigh, the head of UNHCR's field office in Maban.
"We can use boats, but experience shows they can be unreliable," he says.
"We had barges bringing in fuel which sank - we lost it all. The solution is airlifts."
Food and other key supplies have to be brought in on specially chartered planes.
The World Food Programme also began air drops of food this week - reportedly the first time for more than three years.
These are expensive solutions - but there do not appear to be many other options.
It is hard to imagine a more difficult place to provide aid - or people in more desperate need of the help.