South Sudan

Photographs & Text by Tom Stoddart

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The Water Children of Jamam Refugee Camp, South Sudan.

The sprawling Jamam refugee camp in Upper Nile State, South Sudan houses 36,500 vulnerable people who have fled across the border from their homes in Blue Nile state to escape the ongoing fighting between Khartoum’s government troops and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army - North.

Every day as the African dawn breaks over the camp golden rays cast long shadows and illuminate an almost biblical scene. Dozens of children are sitting quietly by deep holes and caves dug into the parched earth of a dried up watering hole.

Out of sight, in the darkness below ground, more small children are burrowing down into the earth with tin cups and plates then scooping up the tiny droplets of filthy water that collect at the bottom of the hole. The precious liquid is passed up to the waiting siblings and poured into plastic buckets and tin cans before being carried to the shelters where the families are staying.

Water is desperately scarce and as people form long lines at the camp taps in 40 degrees of heat, frustration and fights break out. Many others, weakened by vomiting and diarrhoea, cannot fight and prefer the arduous search for water underground.

Sarah Yabura aged 16 says “Getting water from the holes is very difficult and dangerous. I’m afraid of the snakes. Life here is difficult and it will get much worse during the rainy season because this area will be flooded. Our whole family is here except my grandmother who stayed in Blue Nile. I have no hope for the future because there is no school here, no good life and my future is dark."

Her friend, Wathesi Walit aged 12 says “My family escaped from the fighting in Blue Nile two months ago and I came here with my 5 brothers and sisters. I come to get water at the holes 3 times a day because the water from the taps does not flow quickly and there are too many people fighting and I’m too young to use force. I need to help my mother who has just given birth 3 days ago, but the whole family depend on the water that I collect”.

NGO’s working at the camp are battling to stop, what is a crisis situation turning into a catastrophe. They fear that when the rains start in a few weeks time months of human and animal filth deposited on the earth will pollute the water pools and cause a tragic cholera epidemic.

Marcel Pelletier, a water engineer with the ICRC says, “In my ten years experience in conflict affected areas, I would say the water shortage in Jamam is as severe as anything I’ve seen. It is a desperate situation. There is no excess water for washing; it is all used for cooking and drinking. People are digging by hand into the ground on the site of dried up watering holes and scooping up any water they find. These people are thirsty and are spending six hours outside with jerry cans in the intense heat.

The rains will come in a few weeks. Far from being the solution, the rains will actually make things worse. The lowland where animals now graze and which people have used as a toilet will flood, turning it into a vast contaminated lake. With no clean water nearby people will drink directly from it. The health risk is glaring; deadly water related diseases could sweep through the camp like wildfire. We have a real humanitarian crisis on our hands. We only have weeks to prevent it getting worse and indeed spinning out of control”.

ICRC in South Sudan.

While in South Sudan with the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (ICRC), photographer Tom Stoddart travelled to many parts of the country, documenting the work of the ICRC in this fledgling country, including issues connected to the current conflict taking place between Sudan and South Sudan around their border.

At Bentiu Hospital in Unity State, near the border, the ICRC's Field Surgical Team were treating wounded Sudanese People's Liberation Army - North (SPLA-North) soldiers, and other patients.

In Agok, Warrap State, the ICRC held information dissemination sessions with SPLA soldiers on the law of armed conflict and humanitarian law. They also distributed seeds, agricultural tools and food staples to those displaced by the border fighting, and the communities housing them.

At Pariang refugee camp in Unity State, the ICRC facilitated phone calls to enable people to restore contact with their families split up by the ongoing conflict.

At Pariang refugee camp in Unity State, the ICRC facilitated phone calls to enable people to restore contact with their families split up by the ongoing conflict.

Elsewhere in Unity State, in Manjaba village, Wengoth village, and Wara village, the ICRC have assisted in the construction and maintenance of water pumps and supplies, in order to maintian access to clean water for vulnerable people caught up in crisis situations.

At Malakal Teaching Hospital in Upper Nile State, the ICRC help to treat children suffering from malaria, malnutrition, diarrhea, Tuberculosis, and kala-azar (leishmaniasis).

And in the capital Juba, in South Sudan's Central Equatoria state, Tom visited the Juba Physical Rehabilitation centre, co-run by the ICRC, where he met a young boy who had received treatment and an artificial leg after being injured in a truck that hit a landmine.

This feature was shot in March 2012.

Full edit of 75 images is available on request.