Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Mauritania's refugee crisis

There are warnings of a growing crisis and security threat emerging from the increasing number of refugees who have fled from Mali into Mauritania. The number of refugees in the main Mbere camp in north-east Mauritania, 60km from the Mali border, has risen to an estimated 75,000. Food shortages are becoming critical and the health situation is worsening.

Humanitarian relief organisations, notably UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the Mauritanian Commissariat of Food Security and the International Fund for Food Security, along with UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders, are being stretched, especially as the number of refugees continues to increase and as the influx into the camps of poor families from the Mauritanian cities of Bassiknou and Fassale also grows. According to figures from journalists in the camps last week, about 100 deaths have so far been recorded, mostly among the elderly, women and children, while more than 1,700 people are suffering from severe to moderate malnutrition.

If relief efforts are not accelerated, food shortages will be exacerbated by the rainy season and blocked roads.

The US-based UPS delivery company flew some 13 tonnes of UNHCR aid items into Nouakchott from Copenhagen (Denmark) on 3 June for distribution in the Mbere camp, as well as vital UNICEF and World Food Programme (WFP) supplies. UPS, which is a UNHCR corporate partner, is covering all transport costs.

However, the message from the aid agencies is that more substantial funding is urgently needed. Otherwise, the situation in the camps is likely to become a humanitarian disaster, with serious implications for Mauritania.

Malnutrition problems are not confined to the Malian refugee camps. The WFP announced on 5 June that it was launching a Canadian-financed distribution programme of food supplements to 30,000 six-to-23-month old children in the Gorgol and Brakna regions, two of Mauritania's 'priority' zones for intervention by the WFP and the Mauritanian government.

For more news and expert analysis about Mauritania, please see Mauritania Politics & Security.

© 2012 Menas Associates

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