I spent the last two weeks of the summer term in Uganda with a group of students, and staying in this country helped make me more aware of some of the changing geography of the continent.
Uganda is bordered to the north by South Sudan – the world’s newest nation, and one of the poorest countries in the world. But as this country celebrates its first anniversary of independence, an environmental and humanitarian disaster is unfolding in the south of the country.
South Sudan is being overwhelmed by a mass influx of refugees fleeing from fighting that continues to rage in Sudan’s Blue Nile state. The Khartoum government has been attacking tribal groups who got trapped on the wrong side of a line on a map when the two countries split last July.
Over 100,000 refugees have flocked to emergency camps in the swamplands south of the border, where conditions are so bad that adult mortality rates run at 3 per 10,000 per day – triple the threshold for an emergency. The rate for children is 4 per 10,000, or double the emergency level. Aid workers have started to call this waterlogged area the ‘Lake District’ after the arrival of the rainy season in Upper Nile state which has turned the camps into a flooded swamp. The groundwater is dirty, and diarrhoea has begun to take its toll on both young and old.
The Blue Nile fighting is one of three simultaneous insurgencies under way in Sudan. The other two are in Darfur in the west and in the southern Kordofan’s Nuba mountains. As fighting erupts here, more and more refugees head south. The immediate future for the world’s youngest contry does not look bright.