Mali refugees face growing humanitarian crisis
By Raby Ould Idoumou for Magharebia in Nouakchott – 03/06/12
Thousands of northern Mali civilians exchanged one crisis for another when they fled their homeland for neighbour nation Mauritania, into a territory that is facing its own security concerns.
Humanitarian aid organisations are now working to address the needs of the rising refugee population.
Malians sheltered at Camp Mbere in northeast Mauritania face food shortages and other troubling realities as more and more displaced victims arrive.
Abou Bakr Ould Sidi and his family were among the first Touaregs to escape fighting between rebels and the army in northern Mali in January.
"Camp Mbere's guests, displaced by war in northern Mali, are suffering poor conditions and challenges on a daily basis," Ould Sidi told Magharebia. An allotment of 5 bags of oil, sugar, 4 kg of rice and a few bags of peanuts per person per week was not enough to prevent malnutrition, he added.
UNHCR, the Mauritanian Commissariat of Food Security and the International Fund for Food Security are all working to address these problems.
Ould Sidi also expressed frustration at the lack of employment opportunities provided by relief groups at the camp, compelling him to travel dozens of kilometres outside the camp in search of work as an excavator.
Mauritanian activist Ould Sidi Mohamed told Magharebia that relief groups faced additional pressure from an influx of poor families from the Mauritanian cities of Bassiknou and Fassale.
Aid organisations have also warned of worsening health conditions at Camp Mbere, where an estimated 75,000 refugees face shortages of both medicine and doctors.
"The situation is difficult, but the Mauritanian authorities have made efforts, and Maghreb countries have also helped," journalist Mohamed Ould Aobeida Sharif, who is covering the refugee situation in eastern Mauritania, told Magharebia.
Dr Salem Ould Mohamed Arkit, a general physician at the camp’s health centre, said the health situation was relatively stable but that the medicine shortage was severe. UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders and the Mauritanian government must hasten to bridge the gap, he said, to prevent the spread of chest infections, diarrhoea and other ailments.
Around 100 deaths have been recorded, mostly among the elderly, women and children, and more than 1,700 people are suffering from severe to moderate malnutrition.
Journalist Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Sheykh said aid organisations needed to speed up relief efforts before the start of the rainy season, when roads are blocked and food runs short.
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