UN Agency fights supply challenges across vast Saharan desert.
The trouble and drama facing North Africa is not limited to the dramatic and historic uprisings that have toppled dictators and ushered in a new era in what has been collectively known as the Arab Spring. West of Cairo, Tripoli, and Tunis, lies Mauritania, a vast desert country border Mali, Senegal, and the Atlantic Ocean, where a refugee crisis is pinching the nation’s water supplies.
An uncommonly dry season has pushed many of the people of Mauritania, who are used to water scarcity, into even more dire circumstances. So too has ongoing conflict in Mali between Tuareg rebels and Malian army, which has led to a steady stream of refugees heading into Mauritania and further taxing the nation’s water supplies. The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is working with these refugees, who number some 20,000, to ensure that they get adequate care.
“In regards to the water, we have been able to bring in three trucks here, that means three cisterns of water,” said Phillipe Creppy, a man working on the scene at the Mauritania-Mali border. “We have three here and three in Fassala. UNHCR is working in both locations to support the refugees.”
The situation for these refugees remains grave. Ely Mohamed, an officer with Mauritania Health Services, reported a high incidence of severe malnutrition among children and a vulnerability to communicable diseases among the entire population. He advocated continuing ongoing programs to provide primary care for refugees.
Getting water to thirsty refugees in the heart of the Saharan desert is no easy task. All of it, along with other essential supplies, takes days to get from UNHCR stations in the region to camps on the border. Despite this difficulty, UNHCR sees its work as indispensable to the wellbeing of these people.
“We have to save lives,” said Baiwong Mahamat, another UNHCR worker on the scene. “Which is why we started distribution today at the Bassikouno camp.”
The combination of drought and conflict has created a dangerous situation in Northwest Africa, and thousands on the border of Mali and Mauritania are now feeling the brunt of it. UNHCR’s work in the area is saving lives, and taking steps to bring stability to the region.