As more and more Malian refugees arrive in Mauritania, UNICEF steps up relief efforts
By Brahim Ould Isselmou and Etienne Yongwe
As more and more Malians arrive at Mbéra refugee camp in Mauritania, UNICEF and partners are scaling up life-saving services for refugee and host community, alike.
MBERA REFUGEE CAMP, Mauritania, 19 March 2013 – Nightfall in Mbéra refugee camp brings some relief for the refugees and humanitarian workers after a hard day in this hot, dry, remote region.
Mbéra is a busy place, home to more than 75,000 refugees who continue to arrive in Mauritania, having fled conflict in Mali. It is the largest refugee camp that has been established to respond to the crisis, compared to those in Burkina Faso and the Niger, and it continues to grow.
Rescue and relief efforts are urgently being scaled up to meet the basic needs of the refugees.
Mohamed treated for malnutrition
Mohammed and his four children are among the refugees to arrive since the beginning of 2013. Leaving their home near Timbuktu was a difficult decision – they faced an uncertain future. They fled and took only what they could carry.
When the family reached the Fassala refugee transit centre, just over the border into Mauritania, the children’s health was assessed. Three-year-old Mohamed was diagnosed with malnutrition and given treatment, including fortified milk.
Within four days, the family was settled in the Mbéra camp, which was re-established by UNHCR and the Government of Mauritania in 2012. There, they receive assistance from a range of organizations, including UNICEF.
Water, sanitation and hygiene package provided
UNICEF is working alongside UNHCR and partners to reinforce interventions in Mbéra camp and to respond to the needs of new refugees. Life-saving humanitarian services are provided to children and women, including a comprehensive water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) package.
Access to safe drinking water, latrines and hygiene materials such as soap is of critical importance in preventing disease. In response to the needs of Malian refugees and the nutritional crisis of 2012, as of November, UNICEF had provided 5,598 WASH kits and awareness messages to severe acute malnutrition-affected carers/mother and child.
The effects of the WASH package are immediate. According to WASH specialist Etienne Yongwe, of United Nations Standby partner CANADEM, “WASH interventions are having a positive impact on the lives of refugees and helping the new arrivals to rapidly meet their essential needs. The needs of women and children are also addressed through a ‘WASH in Nutrition’ integrated service in nutrition centres. By working on the two sectors simultaneously, we improve and reinforce the health outcomes for children.’’
Refugees and host communities benefit
UNICEF is also expanding its interventions for host communities in the area surrounding the camp. A WASH package has been extended to assist children and women in the area who have also been affected by the nutritional crisis across the Sahel.
“We are providing life-saving and resilience services to the newly arrived refugees, and we are striving to support local population with a comprehensive vision to meet UNICEF’s Core Commitments for Children,” stresses UNICEF Representative in Mauritania Lucia Elmi. “Currently, our results and achievements cannot keep pace with the dire and growing needs of children in Mauritania. More resources and more support are required from all our donors and partners.”
The WASH and WASH in Nutrition interventions complement health, nutrition, child protection and education actions. Together, they bring a broad package of relief and resilience services to refugees and host communities.
Mohammed and his family are now getting used to life in Mbéra camp, and little Mohamed is beginning to recover. Like many other children in the camp, he faces an uncertain future, but here, he is at least safe and has access to basic services. The whole family is now benefitting from integrated interventions, and they can begin to look to the future with hope.