Ethiopia: Red Cross provides life-saving support to South Sudanese refugees

Published: 29 April 2014 14:12 CET

Since early December when violence erupted in South Sudan, more than 85,000 people have fled into neighboring Ethiopia, arriving in Gambella, exhausted, sick, and in desperate need of support.

The Ethiopian Red Cross Society (ERCS), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and the Swiss Red Cross Society, are together supporting the refugees with improved access to medical care and clean water, along with hygiene promotion.

“Families, many of them with very small children, have been walking for days, and sometimes weeks, to reach the safety of Ethiopia,” says Ariane Tombet, head of the ICRC delegation in Ethiopia. “They are worn out from the journey, and many arrive sick and in need of immediate aid.”

“In the camps, life is becoming more demanding as there is a lack of shelter and water which requires the attention of all humanitarian actors,” says Frehiwot Worku, Secretary General, Ethiopian Red Cross Society. She further notes that “the influx is increasing on a daily basis so Movement partners, together with ERCS, need to make the necessary preparations in order to accommodate the anticipated increase of refugees.”

“The rainy season will soon be upon us and with that comes the potential for an increase in water-borne diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea,” says Jill Clements, IFRC head of delegation in Ethiopia. “It is vital that we work with refugees now to ensure they are aware of some of the measures they can take to help prevent diseases such as these from taking hold.”

Following a multidisciplinary assessment in the refugee camps in early March, Red Cross Movement partners deployed two fully equipped ambulances and two referral vehicles to the refugee camps. “Red Cross ambulance crews are giving 24-hour service to refugees who need medical attention, while the referral vehicles provide transportation for non-critical patients,” explains Ato Umed Uquay, representative of the ERCS Gambella branch.   

Medical supplies such as equipment, medicines, and hygiene materials have also been donated to Gambella hospital, Nyinenyang and Itang health centres.

In Letchuor camp, 100 volunteers who are refugees themselves have been trained in water and sanitation activities and in emergency health. Approximately 21,000 litres of water is being provided on a daily basis to Kule camp, with water being trucked in from nearby Itang town.

Plans are now underway to assist 12,000 of the most vulnerable refugees, especially pregnant and lactating women, and refugees with disabilities, with fuel saving stoves, firewood, non-food items, and emergency shelters. In Pagak camp, the entry point from South Sudan, the Red Cross will construct five communal shelters with basic household items (kitchen sets, sleeping mats), each of which can accommodate 300 refugees.  

IFRC has released 125,220 Swiss francs from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to support the Ethiopian Red Cross Society in assisting up to 30,000 South Sudanese refugees for three months. Activities include helping to meet the basic health needs of the refugees, training volunteers in epidemic preparedness, and ensuring refugees know how to prevent the spread of disease through hygiene promotion.