Cholera outbreak in South Sudan’s capital threatens to bring new waves of suffering

By Oxfam
Clean water is vital for stemming the spread of cholera, which has again broken out in Juba, South Sudan’s capital, where many people are living in temporary camps like this one. Photo: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam

Oxfam is calling for an immediate end to a conflict that has displaced more than two million people.

A new cholera outbreak in Juba, South Sudan’s capital, threatens to add to the suffering countless displaced people have endured since the conflict that first erupted in December 2013 drove them from their homes. Many families are now camped at a UN base there.

“This cholera outbreak is a wake-up call for the government and the aid world to redouble efforts to tackle a worsening cycle of misery,” said Zlatko Gegic, Oxfam’s country director in South Sudan. “Money is urgently needed to fund an immediate surge in action to tackle the disease.”

When an outbreak of the highly contagious waterborne disease hit the capital a year ago, Oxfam raced to stem its spread by building latrines, treating water, mobilizing communities to collect garbage, and sharing information on good hygiene practices. Now, urgent action is needed more than ever.

“The deteriorating economic situation has led to a hike in fuel prices and significantly reduced people’s access to safe water,” said Gegic. “This has the potential to exacerbate and increase the spread of cholera in overcrowded camps and in poor urban areas in Juba. People depend on water trucks for their clean water and many can no longer afford to buy water.”

Many people who are too poor to buy water from the trucks fetch their drinking supply directly from a nearby river. But drinking it untreated puts people at risk of contracting cholera.

The outbreak comes just weeks after aid agencies warned of alarming food scarcity among the South Sudanese:  An estimated 40 percent of the fledgling nation’s population is expected to be severely hungry by the end of July. Malnutrition rates are skyrocketing among children under the age of 5.

At the UN camp in Juba, known as the Protection of Civilians site, Oxfam is now spreading the word on good hygiene and how hand-washing and careful cleaning of water storage containers can help keep cholera at bay. We are also installing hand-washing facilities at strategic points within the site, including at local restaurants and water points.

In other parts of the city, we are repairing drilled wells and chlorinating water trucks to ensure people have access to the safe drinking water they need.  In addition, we’re working with a variety of water, sanitation, and health agencies along with the UN and the government of South Sudan to develop and revise state and national cholera response plans.

But as important as all these steps are, ending the conflict is the only way to ensure the future well-being of families.

“The conflict remains the key driver of the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan,” said Gegic. “There needs to be an immediate end to the fighting and a commitment by all parties to the conflict to negotiate a peaceful, long-term political solution.”

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