(May 14, 2020) In Juba, the capital of South Sudan, nearly 30,000 people live side-by-side in a sprawling camp known as a “protection of civilian” (PoC) site. They fled their homes to escape war and the camp is their only home. Now Covid-19 has arrived in the camp.
“We are seeing a big increase in cases across the country. We are particularly concerned that there have been a couple of cases that tested positive in the camp here just outside Juba,” says James Reynolds, the head of delegation for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in South Sudan.
“There are tens of thousands of internally displaced persons living there, so they live in quite cramped conditions and I think the big difficulty there is if you have got lots of people living in a single home without maybe running water inside that it’s very difficult for people to respect handwashing, social distancing, wearing a mask, all these things.”
Combatting the virus requires rigorous hygiene and distancing measures. Clean water, at least, is available, but what about the distancing? asks Kim, an English teacher and resident at the camp.
“Today we have the disease, and our population is very squeezed. We are in one place, so it will be very, very hard for us to avoid this disease, or to control this disease, because we are very close to each other.
“You find ten people in the same room. Or three people under the same mosquito net. From there, how can we put the rule that says make a distance?”
Extra hygiene and distancing measures have now been introduced, but these measures may be hard to stick to for the camp’s younger residents, as children (and parents) are discovering all over the world. And in the PoC, some of the vital equipment is still lacking.
“There is a need for soaps, both liquid soap and hard soap to be distributed to the communities in need,” says Lony Choul, another camp resident. “This is one of the most challenging [things].”
The ICRC, together with the South Sudan Red Cross, has worked in the PoC for years to help families who are separated by war stay in touch through phone calls. With cases now confirmed in the camp, the team is suspending in-person phone call sessions so as not to not create crowds. Instead, the team is sending phone credit to those with active phone numbers so they can make the calls themselves.
Everyone in the world is at risk during a pandemic. But for those displaced by conflict, living in crowded camps, prisons, or densely populated urban neighbourhoods the risk is higher.
“It is not just the camp, we’ve also got prisons, we’ve got hospitals, and many parts of Juba are quite low-income, but high density, so you’ve got the same kinds of problems with lots of people living in quite a confined area and it is very difficult for them to fulfill all of those measures,” says Reynolds.
The ICRC remains committed to helping stop the spread of COVID-19 in South Sudan, together with the South Sudan Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent, while also continuing to meet the needs of people affected by conflict and violence.