Two women displaced by the fighting in Bor sit near a mosquito net during the early morning in Minkaman, in Awerial county, South Sudan. Picture: Andreea Campeanu

Juba - The public health situation in the biggest camp for displaced people in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, is a “ticking time bomb”, a health charity said on Thursday.

There are 27 000 people crowded into Tomping camp, which mushroomed around a UN base close to the airport as terrified civilians fled fighting in the capital that started in mid-December.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF - Medecins Sans Frontieres), which operates a clinic at Tomping camp, said conditions in the camp were appalling.

“Preliminary data indicate that the number of people dying every day is above the emergency threshold,” MSF said in a statement.

“There is really only one way to describe Tomping - exceptionally overcrowded,” said MSF's emergency co-ordinator, Forbes Sharp.

“It's clear this compound was never designed to be a displaced camp, nor to hold this number of people. At most it could host 4 000 to 5 000 people and now more than 27 000 people are crowded here in extreme heat,” Sharp said.

“From a public health point of view, such crowded conditions are a ticking time bomb,” he said, noting that such chronic overcrowding and inadequate sanitation mean that communicable diseases spread very quickly.

As well as diarrhoeal diseases, exacerbated by inadequate hygiene, respiratory tract infections and malaria, MSF said its staff at the camp are seeing more and more cases of measles, a highly contagious disease that weakens the immune system and leaves small children in particular at risk of other infections.

“Measles in a camp setting is alarming because it affects young children, spreads quickly and can kill,” MSF said.

The conflict in South Sudan, which started in mid-December with clashes between two factions within the army, has left thousands dead and has caused close to 900 000 others to flee their homes.

A ceasefire agreement signed in January did not bring an end to the fighting.

The situation in Juba is relatively calm but given that many of those who took refuge in Tomping camp and at a second UN base, said they were targeted because of their ethnic origin they are still afraid to return home. - AFP