Tuesday January 7 2014

Plan well for refugee influx

As fighting continued in South Sudan, the Uganda Red Cross announced yesterday that the number of refugees fleeing insecurity in the young nation and crossing into the West Nile region of Uganda could soon hit the 30,000 mark.

But the announcement came before reports that fighting was spreading south and closer to the border with Uganda. This newspaper reported yesterday that gunfire had rocked Yei, another South Sudanese town which is less than 150km from our border.

This means more refugees should be expected into the country. But what preparations do we have in place to receive these vast numbers, especially with regard to possible disease outbreaks? Already, some of the refugees were reportedly using a mixture of sugar and salt to treat their children suffering from diarrhea. A bigger outbreak could occur.
The minister for Disaster Preparedness and other international aid agencies should work together to ensure that these refugees are supplied with basics like shelter, food and medicine. Children of the first batch of refugees to enter the country were reportedly immunised. This was a good move that should continue for all new arrivals.

The government should also identify other available free spaces where the refugees should be housed rather than congest them in strained camps.

As efforts to ensure that the refugees are given decent reception and care continue, it is crucial that efforts to bring the war in South Sudan to an immediate end are intensified. We, therefore, appeal to the warring factions of President Salva Kiir and Dr Riek Machar to cease fire and embrace the peace talks currently underway in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

It is the responsibility of Mr Kiir and Dr Machar to bring the senseless killings to an end by urging their forces to put down their weapons and wait for the outcome of the peace talks.

Regional leaders should also advise their counterparts in South Sudan to embrace peace, and desist from taking sides in the conflict because this will worsen the situation. The South Sudan war should be treated as a regional problem whose impact is being felt across the East African Community. Business has been hampered and livelihoods of many traders affected.

We hope a white smoke will come out of the Ethiopian conference rooms where the peace talks are being held.