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How A Peacekeeping Base In South Sudan Became One Of The World’s Most Crowded Places

Three months, nine hectares, 21,000 people.

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In December last year, the United Nations opened its peacekeeping headquarters in the South Sudanese capital, Juba, to civilians fleeing the recent violence.

It's now one of the world's most densely populated places.

UN Tomping, Juba, Getty Images / Via

2283 people are squeezing into every hectare - an area just slightly bigger than a football pitch - and overcrowding at the base has quickly eclipsed some of the most crowded places in the world, from Hong Kong to Manhattan.

In just over 3 months, the crowding at UN Tomping has come close to the levels seen at Dharavi, Mumbai's infamous 'super-slum', which houses an average of 3000 people per hectare.

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When violence first broke out in South Sudan in December, the UK began providing immediate shelter and medical supplies to civilians caught up in the conflict.

Britain dispatched tents for up to 7500 people, tarpaulins and shelter kits to 50,000 people, and water purification tablets to 150,000.

But now international agencies have been contending with the less obvious consequences of the conflict - seeds that have gone unplanted, livestock that has been lost or thrown off their grazing routes, markets that are now cut off from most people.

At the end of April the rainy season will begin in South Sudan. After that, it will be too late to plant. To stop a possible famine in the coming months, the UK and international partners will be providing seeds, fishing equipment, and nutrient-rich vegetables to people across the country.

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Tomping isn't the only UN base in South Sudan sheltering civilians. Malakal in Upper Nile state, Bentiu, Bor and several others have all done the same since December.

At Malakal the overcrowding has reached around 1937 people per hectare. Outside the gates, Upper Nile state has seen some of the worst violence anywhere in South Sudan.

In the last fortnight, the UN Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) reported that Tomping, Malakal and other UN bases are now at risk of flooding, and will quickly have to relocate.

Hilde Johnson, who has been at the helm of UNMISS since the crisis began, has warned: 'With the rainy season now settling in, conditions are getting worse... The conditions have been very difficult from the outset. The sites are alarmingly over-crowded and basic services not more than rudimentary. We are in a race against time to establish the alternative sites'.

According to UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, there shouldn’t be more than a single person living in a camp area of 45 sq metres. Beyond that point, every indicator of human welfare worsens. And in Tomping, there are 10 people in that space – just 4.4 sq metres each.


Dharavi, Mumbai

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The estimates are hazy, but it’s thought that somewhere in the region of a million people live in Mumbai’s ‘super-slum’. It spans a constantly-shifting area of around 2 square kilometres, and hosts a half-billion dollar informal economy.

Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro

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The Rocinha favela, a slum area that streaks down the hillside between two wealthy areas of Rio, has become renowned as a city within a city. The quality of dwellings has improved hugely in the past two decades – but the huge concentration of people remains. Estimates on the numbers in the favela vary wildly. By most guesses Rocinha occupies 1-2 km2 – with anywhere between 100,000 and 200,000 people living there.

Mong Kok, Hong Kong

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In an already crowded metropolis, Mong Kok edges out Yuen Long District and Ap Lei Chau island to take the dubious prize of Hong Kong’s very densest quarter, with around 1300 people living in each hectare.


Manhattan, New York City

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Manhattan's overspilling sidewalks have become the defining image of big-city overcrowding. On a 22 square mile island, 1.6 million people live on top of one another. And during its daytime spike the number rises to 3.9 million, making for an average 663 people per hectare.