South Sudan horror dawns on Kiwis

Last updated 09:37 24/12/2013
Sth Sudan

HOMELESS: A displaced family from South Sudan's Nuer tribe, who fled their home in fear of ethnic killing by the Dinka-led government, erects a makeshift shelter.

Sth Sudan
NOWHERE TO GO: Families displaced by recent fighting in South Sudan, camp in a warehouse inside the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNAMIS) facility in Jabel.

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Former New Zealand army captain Felicity Gapes is on the front line of a deepening humanitarian crisis in South Sudan.

Hundreds are dead as fighting in the world's youngest nation with Gapes, 49, leading the International Committee of the Red Cross's (ICRC) response on the ground.

Gapes is no stranger to tragedy - she was the first New Zealand soldier into Vanimo, Papua New Guinea, in 1998 after a tsunami killed 2000 people and injured thousands.

She has also served in Bosnia during the worst of the conflict.

The New Zealand Red Cross said four New Zealanders were treating South Sudan wounded. All four were seconded to the ICRC, two in the capital Juba and two in Malakal in the north of the country.

Gapes was attached to the Norwegian Red Cross and the ICRC and was leading the medical response on the ground, the NZ Red Cross said in a statement.

Quoted in the statement, Gapes said many of the wounded had difficulty reaching Juba Teaching Hospital and Juba Military Hospital because of the security situation and lack of transport.

"Staff in both hospitals have been working around the clock, but they are struggling because of the sheer volume of patients and the severity of the injuries," she said.

She told Agence France-Presse they knew there were people who needed care but they had difficulty reaching them.

New Zealand Red Cross international operations and emergencies manager Andrew McKie said all four Kiwi nurses were safe.

"Our nurses are under curfew so they go to the hospitals during the day but have to be back in their compounds at night," he said.

"These are highly capable and experienced individuals who are used to working in combat zones. They are doing an important job helping treat the innocent victims of this conflict."

In September New Zealand Red Cross spokeswoman Corinne Ambler wrote on their website of arriving in Juba and being told "forget your Kiwi manners - push and shove as hard as you can".

She wrote of meeting Christchurch nurse Rebecca Barrell and Gapes.

"These two have some horrific stories, and the few images I see make me wonder how they cope with the curfews, lack of decent food, extremely sick people and inadequate medical supplies," Ambler wrote.

Barrell's hospital had no power or running water.

"War and weapons injuries are common here, along with bites from hippos, crocodiles, snakes and fish, TB, malaria, pneumonia, meningitis, and diarrhoea," she wrote.

"In the rainy season - which is now till October - the roads are impassable for five months, so by the time they get to the hospital many patients are critically ill."

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