South Sudan: Finding shelter by the Nile

Displaced people disembark from the river barges that brought them from Bor to Awerial in South Sudan on 2 January 2014
Image caption Many of the displaced arrived in long boats that carried them across the River Nile from Bor to Awerial

The tens of thousands of people who fled Bor town and crossed the Nile dragging what few possessions they could carry, landed in Awerial county and found the nearest tree to set up camp.

Now, for miles along the river bank, every tree is taken. A small town has been overwhelmed by a deluge of people without food, clean water or sanitation.

There are just a handful of wells. Most people are collecting dirty, muddy river water for cleaning, cooking and drinking.

In a country where cholera is endemic, the risk of disease is high, and the two small Doctors Without Borders (MSF) clinics are already overwhelmed.

In one corner a baby lies motionless with its mother - a drip trying to rehydrate the child.

Others cry as their parents queue, waiting for a share of a dwindling supply of pills that might help save their lives.

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Media captionAlastair Leithead reports from Awerial refugee camp on the banks of the Nile, now home to 75,000 people

Doctors say diarrhoea is the biggest problem at the moment and, until large supplies of water can be chlorinated, things will only deteriorate.

Food is also a challenge. But although there are probably more than 75,000 people whose supplies are running out, the queues for rations are orderly - those most in need are being provided for first.

While the international community scrambles to get aid from the capital Juba up the poor, pot-holed dirt road to Awerial, the situation in Bor is increasingly tense.

The long, deep boats that transported the people 150 at a time can no longer operate because it is too dangerous.

We met a woman and her daughter who were injured by shrapnel while trying to cross and there is much confusion surrounding what may be happening across the river.

Those in the camp say there are many more who would like to reach the safety of the western bank of the Nile.

But the rebels still control Bor and government forces appear to be mobilising, perhaps to attempt to take back the town.

Image caption There is not enough shelter, clean water and sanitation in Awerial for the number of refugees arriving
Image caption Aid agencies are trying to get supplies to Awerial but the poor roads, and fighting, are hampering efforts

Those who fled the town are predominantly from the Dinka community - the largest in South Sudan and the ethnic group of the president.

The man who is said to have attempted, or to have been planning, a coup which started this crisis is Riek Machar, who was vice-president until he was sacked in July.

He is from the second largest group, the Nuer, and what started out as a political crisis has sparked some ethnic violence.

The older people remember 1991 when Riek Machar last split from the then Sudanese rebel movement. That sparked fighting on ethnic lines which resulted in the massacre of 2,000 people in Bor.

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Media captionToby Lanzer, UN mission in S Sudan: "Situation continues to be very very volatile"

This latest political split has again provoked ethnic violence through a Nuer youth militia dubbed the "white army".

When the militia arrived in Bor, the Dinka desperately fled across the river. Some of those we spoke to in the camp said civilians were deliberately being targeted - and there were many bodies lying in the streets.

It is hard to confirm these reports, but there is a real fear in the camp that Dinka people would be killed if they returned to a rebel-controlled Bor.

Although much of the centre is said to be abandoned, many people fled into the bush - they are in need of help but out of reach.

Tens of thousands displaced by the fighting have also taken shelter in United Nations' compounds.

With aid flights unable to operate when there is a risk of renewed violence, the situation there is increasingly difficult.

Tonnes of aid is arriving, along with international organisations, who are trying to get help to those most in need.

The spontaneous town which has grown up along the Nile is the main focus of humanitarian efforts right now.

But more than 200,000 people have been displaced across the country, and if the fighting is to continue or intensify, more will be forced to flee their homes and become increasingly dependent on aid.

Image caption Fighting erupted in the South Sudan capital, Juba, in mid-December. It followed a political power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his ex-deputy Riek Machar. The squabble has taken on an ethnic dimension as politicians' political bases are often ethnic.
Image caption Sudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.
Image caption Both Sudan and the South are reliant on oil revenue, which accounts for 98% of South Sudan's budget. They have fiercely disagreed over how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state - at one time production was shutdown for more than a year. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north
Image caption The two Sudans are very different geographically. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.
Image caption After gaining independence in 2011, South Sudan is the world's newest country - and one of its poorest. Figures from 2010 show some 69% of households now have access to clean water - up from 48% in 2006. However, just 2% of households have water on the premises.
Image caption Just 29% of children attend primary school in South Sudan - however this is also an improvement on the 16% recorded in 2006. About 32% of primary-age boys attend, while just 25% of girls do. Overall, 64% of children who begin primary school reach the last grade.
Image caption Almost 28% of children under the age of five in South Sudan are moderately or severely underweight - this compares with the 33% recorded in 2006. Unity state has the highest proportion of children suffering malnourishment (46%), while Central Equatoria has the lowest (17%).

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