“Children are the most vulnerable”
Children are the most vulnerable within the population of internally displaced people: their immune systems are weaker than those of adults, so they are at greater risk of falling ill.The rainy season only heightens this permanent risk. Water in the camp becomes stagnant or creates mud that children touch while they’re playing, after which they do not wash their hands. So they end up catching bacteria that cause diarrhoea and cholera. We emphatically tell people to immediately come see us as soon as a child or adult has diarrhoea because, at the very beginning, cholera is fairly easy to treat. This is essential: cholera provokes a loss of fluids, which leads to dehydration, which causes constriction of veins, which in turn makes shots difficult, especially so for children’s veins.Respiratory infections are also frequent, and there, too, the risks increase with the rainy season. We are dealing with cases of pneumonia that could be deadly.A little girl holds her cholera immunisation certificate in Bentiu. Photo: UNICEF.“They don’t get enough protein and their nutrition is not sufficiently varied”There are also malnutrition problems: the primary foodstuffs distributed in the camps are rice, beans, oil, and salt. So they are lacking in protein. We give them calorific puddings to eat in order to try to contain the risk of malnutrition.
Finally, many of those who fled the fighting are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after witnessing atrocities, murders, and rape. Sometimes you can tell just by looking at a patient’s face. We have a psychiatrist in the camp who, with translation help from other residents, tries to treat these problems. It affects both adults and children, who we try to calm down by making them play games. But this type of problem cannot be resolved in a day or two of treatment; it’s a long process and a massive challenge for us.
“The Bentiu camp is one of the worst I’ve ever seen in my life”
Around Juba, the camps are better organised because they have been around for a long time. But Bentiu, for instance, is a complete disaster: there are about 40,000 residents, people are constantly coming and going, and the total population of the camp keeps increasing. There is a severe shortage of water, which threatens the health of everyone in the camp, and children suffer most from this.Aside from the sanitary problems, there are also security problems. The camp residents go outside the camp to search for water. Since they are primarily ethnic Nuers, they are at risk of being shot by the government forces, which are controlled by the Dinka ethnicity. Recently, a man was gunned down as he was standing at the entrance of the camp.These people have seen ghastly things, lived through extremely violent combat, and have survived months of living in the bush, scraping by on meagre fruits and vegetables. And in the camp, too, they also live in terrible conditions, especially with the arrival of the rainy season: I’ve seen mattresses set down in muddy puddles, children running barefoot in the mud, latrines that have collapsed due to the slippery soil… It’s worse than what I saw in Darfur. It’s one of the worst refugee camps I’ve ever seen in my life.