A year ago it was Greece and Turkey that bore the brunt of the world’s worst refugee crisis. Newspapers and television bulletins were full of stories about the influx of a million people in Europe, fleeing conflict in Syria, Iraq and other parts of the Middle East or Africa.
Now, an even bigger refugee crisis is unfolding, not in Europe but in Africa. But it has had far less media coverage, and it is questionable whether Australians know much about it.
Uganda is now the centre of the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis.
In the past 12 months the central African nation has taken in around 1.3 million people — more than Greece, Turkey or any other country in the world at the height of last year’s crisis in Europe.
Every day around 2,000 people stream across Uganda’s borders fleeing famine, drought and violence in neighbouring countries.
Most are from South Sudan, which was declared to be in a state of famine early this year. Although conditions have eased slightly, the reality for many on the ground in South Sudan has changed little.
The number of people struggling to find enough food each day has grown to 6 million, the highest level of food insecurity the country has ever seen.
The United Nations says almost 276,000 people are estimated to be severely malnourished and in need of immediate life-saving
“Six million people don’t know where their next meal is coming from, that’s an extraordinary number,” said James Elder, from the UN children’s agency UNICEF.
“It’s more than 50 per cent of the population. So really the crisis remains in full throttle. Their life is still hellish. They’re suffering from a disastrous lack of access to food.”
At the height of the famine at least 30 per cent of South Sudan’s population faced severe malnutrition, and one in 5,000 people died every day.
The lack of clean water remains as much a threat as the lack of food.
“While food is a critical issue, it’s dirty water that is going to kill most children. That’s why we have so many people now fleeing South Sudan every single week,” Mr Elder said.
The scale of malnutrition and hunger in South Sudan has had an extraordinary impact on Uganda. Refugee settlements have sprung up along Uganda’s northern border with South Sudan.
Only a few months ago Palabek was little more than a dot on the map — dry, dusty and relatively uninhabited. Today it is home to 150,000 people, and counting.
Another settlement at Bidi Bidi currently houses more than 250,000 refugees, more than any other such place in the world. Bidi Bidi had to be closed to new arrivals last December, to prevent overcrowding. But since then new refugee settlements have opened rou