South Sudan on cholera alert as donors meet to pledge funds

As rains cut off humanitarian access and increase risk of the spread of disease, increased donor funding is critical to saving lives in South Sudan

The people of South Sudan, already exposed to conflict and hunger, are this week facing a new threat – cholera. The outbreak of the highly contagious disease in Juba ahead of tomorrow’s donor pledging conference in Oslo, organised by Norway and the United Nations, demonstrates how urgently funds are needed to respond to the increasingly dire humanitarian crisis unfolding in the world’s newest nation.

Oxfam’s South Sudan country director Cecilia Milan who is in Oslo, said: “The confirmation of 138 cholera cases in Juba is a stark reminder of the multitude of risks the citizens of this country have been forced to endure since conflict broke out in December 2013. There is no question – the international community must act now to prevent a rapidly escalating food crisis – and now potentially a public health emergency – in South Sudan.”

Urban areas and camps, at most risk

Cholera is spread through contaminated water, human interaction and unclean food, so the often overcrowded urban, camp and settlement areas are most at risk. If untreated, the highly contagious disease can have up to a 50 percent fatality rate, but if treated, this is dramatically reduced to less than 1 percent. Prevention and treatment measures are simple, but with aid budgets for South Sudan already desperately underfunded, lives stand to be lost because responders lack the funds they need to react rapidly to this outbreak.

Milan said: “The people of South Sudan have already suffered too much - so many lives have been lost to conflict and so many more stand to be lost due to hunger. We can’t morally sit by and watch a public health crisis take additional lives in South Sudan. The humanitarian responders stand ready to do what is needed to avert a hunger and disease catastrophe in South Sudan. But we need donors to stand behind us and give vital funding to enable us to carry out our work.”

The UN has revised its appeal for South Sudan, which now stands at $1.8 billion USD until December 2014. Currently, only 515 million has been received. The UN has projected that by December, four million people will go hungry, seven million will be in need of some form of humanitarian assistance, 1.5 million will be displaced within South Sudan, and over 850,000 will have fled to neighboring countries.

In addition to asking donors to to pledge funds at the Oslo conference, Oxfam is calling on the general public to donate generously to its emergency appeal.

Humanitarian access, protection of civilians and more resources: key issues at Oslo

The Oslo conference centers around four core areas: humanitarian access, protection of civilians, regional response for refugees, and the resources required to adequately respond. If all four of these areas are not addressed within the coming months, the victims of this conflict risk being pushed into hunger crisis of catastrophic proportions. With the onset of the rainy season, roads and rivers become impassable, making access to affected communities almost impossible and creating perfect conditions for further spread of disease.

Donor countries and regional neighbours must also use their diplomatic channels to ensure the current ceasefire holds, for without an end to the conflict, conditions will only worsen, pushing thousands more from their homes and hindering the provision of life-saving humanitarian aid.

Oxfam's humanitarian response

Oxfam has so far helped over 180,000 people in South Sudan and 63,000 in Uganda, working to prevent outbreaks of communicable diseases by providing access to clean water and sanitation, and providing household items such as mosquito nets, blankets, cook stoves and charcoal for cooking. Oxfam also supports peace building initiatives in communities where it is working, both in South Sudan and Uganda. It plans to expand its work to help many more but needs to find the funds to do so.

In response to the cholera outbreak in Juba, Oxfam is building latrines (only 15 percent of people in South Sudan have access to latrines), providing buckets, treating water, mobilising communities to collect garbage and communicating good hygiene practices to these communities to reduce the spread of the disease. With a quick response, it is hoped that the outbreak can be contained.

Contact information

For more information or to arrange an interview, contact:
Aimee Brown in Juba: abrown@oxfam.org.uk or +211 914 073 818
Christina Corbett in Oxford: ccorbett@oxfam.org.uk or +44 7557 48 37 58

Please support Oxfam's South Sudan Crisis Appeal.