Kilometre 18 – A bitter war between Khartoum and rebels in Sudan’s troubled Blue Nile state has sent tens of thousands of people fleeing to the transit site known only as KM 18 in South Sudan. Having fled shelling in their home villages with little supplies, many of the 35 000 people who have sought refuge at this site 50km from the border – even children – have been reduced to gnawing at tree bark and eating leaves to survive.
“We brought a little bit of sorghum with us and water … but then the food ran out, and we were just eating the leaves of trees,” said Hawa Jema, as she gulped down rehydrating fluids in the 40 degree heat at a clinic run by Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders – MSF).
“On the way, some people died from the water, and even some men died because they were too weak to walk,” said Jema, who was at least fortunate enough to be able to bring some camels when she and her family fled.
Five days without food
Close by, two small children scrape furiously at the bark of a tree stump, stuffing shreds of it into their mouths. Cradling her granddaughter Khalifa, Anima Hassan Omer sits on a mat surrounded by mothers feeding tiny blobs of high-fat paste and sips of water to babies with huge knees and baggy skin.
Khalifa’s mother went missing along the way when she went to fetch water, and so the baby survived on dirty water.
“For five days we had no food. We ate tree leaves and drank any water we found on the road,” said Ali Osman, displaying a shrapnel wound to the leg sustained when he fled shelling in Jam village in Bau County.
“As we were coming, the army sent big bombs and I was injured on the leg,” said Osman, who fled along with his five children.