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Refugee Children Dying at Alarming Rate in South Sudan, Aid Groups Say

NAIROBI, Kenya — Nine children are dying every day from preventable illnesses like diarrhea in an overcrowded, swampy refugee camp in South Sudan, and United Nations officials said Friday that they were stepping up efforts to evacuate people from the camp as fast as they could.

Heavy rains, overflowing latrines and a ceaseless influx of sick and hungry people have conspired to create an epidemiological disaster at the Jamam refugee camp, with death rates now nearly twice the emergency level, said the aid group Doctors Without Borders.

“The situation is getting worse by the day,” said Tara Newell, an emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders, who spoke by satellite phone from the camp on Friday evening. “We’re arriving in the middle of the rainy season, tents keep falling down, children have to wear wet clothes, there’s malaria, and we see children getting sicker and sicker.”

The Jamam camp sits on a flood plain just inside the contested border between Sudan and the newly independent nation of South Sudan. The refugees are streaming out of Blue Nile, the state in Sudan where rebels allied with the South Sudanese are fighting the Sudanese Army, saying they want more autonomy. The struggle for self-government has become a familiar casus belli for rebel groups in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and other marginalized areas of Sudan far from the capital, Khartoum.

So far, political negotiations have failed, and both sides, the Blue Nile rebels and the government, have vowed to fight on.

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