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Repeated attacks on civilians by South Sudan's divided military have pushed more than a million people into other countries, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. About 2,500 refugees, mostly women and children, cross the border into Uganda every day. St. Louis Public Radio's Durrie Bouscaren has more.
DURRIE BOUSCAREN, BYLINE: Pagirinya is one of the newest settlements built to accommodate the new refugees near Uganda's northern border with South Sudan. Small shelters are wrapped in a white waterproof material emblazoned with the blue logo of the U.N. Refugee Agency. Families who have the space plant gardens of cassava, sweet potatoes or corn. A crowd gathers at a food distribution area. Jonathan Taban, a father of six, says they're trying to see when they'll receive food rations this month.
JONATHAN TABAN: You can see most of the people who are crowded in there - they also missed food. They are trying to check their names.
BOUSCAREN: Taban is from South Sudan's capital, Juba. He says his neighbors were attacked by militants in July. His family fled the city on foot, eventually reaching buses that took them across the border to register as refugees in Uganda. But he hasn't received food rations yet, and he can't figure out why.
TABAN: I had received food since July - emergency food for only 10 days. Yes, that is the last food I received. Up to now, I haven't received any food.
BOUSCAREN: To make some money, the former cashier has been clearing land for other families. He opens his hands, cut and calloused from digging in fields.
TABAN: These marks - I'm suffering, doing manual labor so that I can feed my children.
BOUSCAREN: His youngest, a two-year-old boy, is getting sick.
TABAN: He's tired. He's very tired - malnourished.
BOUSCAREN: U.N. officials say there are a couple reasons a family might miss out on rations. Sometimes people go to the wrong place to pick up their food or don't know they have to register. More than 200,000 South Sudanese have come in to Uganda since fighting intensified in July. Around that same time, the World Food Program cut rations in half for families who have been in the country for more than a year. In a phone call from her office in Nairobi, regional spokesperson Challiss McDonough says resources are stretched.
CHALLIS MCDONOUGH: We get no core funding from the U.N. And that means that we don't have this, like, central budget where we say, OK, we're going to prioritize the South Sudanese refugees, and we're going to take that out of school feeding in Tajikistan.
BOUSCAREN: In Uganda, the program is facing a $21 million shortfall over the next six months. Ration cuts in camps near war zones aren't unusual. Syrian refugees saw the value of their food vouchers cut in half last year. Refugees in Kenya are experiencing cuts, too.
MCDONOUGH: Each one of these countries in the region has far more refugees now than they did five years ago or three years ago or, in the case of Uganda, even six months ago.
BOUSCAREN: McDonough says the need is growing faster than resources can come available. In South Sudan, war has interrupted farmers' abilities to grow crops. An estimated 4.8 million people are experiencing food shortages.
(SOUNDBITE OF COUGHING)
BOUSCAREN: At a clinic back at the refugee settlement, medical officer Ahmad Rasul says malaria and malnutrition are two of his biggest concerns for refugees in Uganda because the people arriving have already been hungry for a long time.
AHMAD RASUL: I think it started from there. Then when they arrived here, there was delays. The amount - the quantity and quality of food that's given to them - it's limited.
BOUSCAREN: And every day another 2,500 refugees cross the border. With the conflict in South Sudan showing no signs of slowing, the next six months could be an even bigger challenge. For NPR News, I'm Durrie Bouscaren in northern Uganda.
SIMON: That story was reported on a trip that was funded by the International Women's Media Foundation.
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