In its annual report, the relief organization Doctors Without Borders has addressed the humanitarian situations in South Sudan, Somalia and Syria, calling them 'appalling.'
A mounting refugee calamity in South Sudan was the focus of this year's 'state of the world' report from Doctors Without Borders. In many regions of the newly independent country, people are fighting just to survive, DWB said. Nearly three-quarters of the population has no access to even rudimentary medical care, according to the report.
Frank Dörner, director of the German section of DWB, stressed that mother and child mortality rates were the highest in the world and, despite ongoing international aid efforts, the current focus in South Sudan was on long-term development, rather than the immediate humanitarian disaster.
South Sudan needs emergency aid
In view of the dire situation for hundreds of thousands of people, emergency aid is needed immediately, said Dörner, adding that many people were struggling with violence, persecution, displacement and disease. An estimated 170,000 were forced to flee violent clashes in the last several months and thousands more face the same fate every day, Dörner noted.
"The refugee camps are totally overcrowded. There is not enough food and water, and tens of thousands of people have fled across the border in recent weeks [in the Upper Nile region]," Dörner said.
South Sudan is hardly able to respond to the acute situation, due to the decades of civil war it has gone through, warned Dörner. And because no investments have been made in the health sector, those in need continue to depend almost entirely on relief organizations, he said.
Somalia - a special challenge
Relief efforts in Somalia were described as a 'particular challenge' by the board chairman of DWB's German section, Tankred Stöbe. He personally helped set up a center for severely undernourished children in 2011 in the bombed out Somali capital, Mogadishu, he said, and within hours of opening the 10 intensive care beds were occupied.
Between May and December of 2011, DWB staff workers in Somalia and in refugee camps on the border in Kenya and Ethiopia treated more than 110,000 seriously malnourished children. "Most of them were in an acute life-threatening situation," said Stöbe.
However, aid workers, too, are in acute danger themselves in Somalia. Two DWB staff members were shot and killed in Mogadishu in December of last year. Two months earlier, two female workers from Spain were kidnapped while helping Somali refugees at Camp Dadaab just across the border in Kenya. A crisis team has been trying ever since to gain their freedom.
War factions must respect neutrality
Stöbe emphasized that Doctors without Borders was one of the few organizations in Somalia that works on all sides of the conflict; in other words, also in areas controlled by the Islamist Al-Shabab militias or various clans.
"As a humanitarian relief organization, we and the people we help, depend on the warring factions respecting the neutrality of humanitarian aid workers and of course their patients and health facilities," he said.
This also holds true for Syria, he added. Despite months of efforts, his group has not received permission to work in the country. Due to the difficult situation in Syria, DWB staff are treating refugees from Syria in Lebanon and Jordan.
Two workers, however, traveled to the Idlib region this spring to get an impression of the situation in northwestern Syria. While they were there, they operated on a number of wounded, later reporting that patients and doctors in Syria were systematically persecuted and attacked.
"In one instance, a team had to run out of the operating room in a matter of minutes because an attack was imminent," explained Stöbe. He appealed to all the factions in Syria to guarantee the safety of doctors and their patients and respect medical facilities as neutral areas. "That," he said, "is a fundamental principle of international law that Syria must also ensure."
Author: Sabine Ripperger / gb
Editor: Jessie Wingard