A woman wearing a turquoise-blue nightdress stares out of a photograph, her eyes so large in her thin face they are almost all you see. In another image a tall man sways unsteadily as a doctor inserts a drip into his arm. And in a third a child looks away from the camera pointing at the coloured strap on his arm, the strap telling those who know that this child may not live.
The borders of the fledgling state of South Sudan have been inundated with refugees fleeing increasing conflict in Sudan head of office at Medecins Sans Frontières Ireland, Jane-Ann McKenna said at an event in Dublin last night, at which those photographs were displayed.
Recently returned from the area, she said camps have been set-up on flood-plains as people simply stopped walking and could not go further without help.
“These camps have sprung up on inhospitable land, with no infrastructure or services. There are pools of stagnant water everywhere, while fresh water and food are in scant supply,” she said, adding people sleep in up to one foot of water when their tents are flooded.
As more help arrives, it has been possible to move thousands of people to other camps away from the flooding. But 35,000 still remain at Jamam camp with an estimated 110,000 refugees in this state known as Blue Nile.
Ms McKenna said the only option available is to place people on trucks up to 100 at a time and drive on mud-caked roads in 40 degree heat.
Appealing for aid from Ireland, she said: “We need to ensure we have the capacity to address preventable diseases and to offer a real chance of survival once they arrive at the camp.”
South Sudan celebrated one year of independence from Sudan this month, but tensions over oil production and border delineations continue and areas which were peaceful twelve months ago are now unstable.
Also speaking at the event was Dr Sarah Geoghegan who worked in another border area - Unity State - for five months earlier this year. Up to 60,000 refugees have fled here, adding to what Dr Geoghegan described as “constant instability.”
“In January when I arrived people were hopeful, but in April things changed. You could see the changes in peoples’ faces as they feared their lives would be taken back into war,” the Dubliner said.
Aside from injuries caused by conflict, she said TB is a huge problem in the country with very few treatment centres available. Working in a large MSF centre, she described patients arriving in wheelbarrows having travelled miles in search of a doctor.
Decades of war between what is now South Sudan and Sudan means that infrastructure, education and health systems are lacking everywhere, not just in the refugee camps.
“Education is very important there. I saw some of the people we worked with who had saved up money, leaving to go back to secondary school. These are people in their thirties and forties,” she said.