57,000 people sharing 100 latrines Upwards of 1,500 Malians are now arriving daily at the Mbera refugee camp in Mauritanian, fleeing ongoing fighting between the military and armed groups in Mali. Since late January, some 57,000 Malians have entered the camp. Refugee numbers are steadily increasing, up from 200 arrivals on April 5. In response to this massive influx, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is bolstering its activities and emergency medical aid in this desert area, where access to medical care is extremely limited.
Fighting between the Malian army, Tuareg movement and other armed groups has been forcing thousands of people to flee to Fassala, Mauritania, located three kilometres from the Malian border. “The presence of armed groups and political uncertainty in Mali is generating fear and panic among the people,” says Elisabetta Maria Faga, MSF field coordinator. Refugees are primarily Tuareg families from the Timbuktu region. “They arrive here exhausted after a two-day journey by truck.” In the Mbera camp, in the heart of the Sahel region and a six-hour drive from the nearest reference hospital in Nema, MSF is providing primary and maternal healthcare to refugees and caring for malnourished children. MSF is also helping local populations by maintaining health posts in the region. “A great number of people are suffering from respiratory infections and diarrhea due to a lack of access to water, exposure to extreme temperatures and frequent sand storms,” says Jean-Paul Jemmy, MSF medical coordinator. As the number of refugees increases, so does the pressure for humanitarian response to improve living conditions within the camp. There are currently 100 communal latrines for 57,000 refugees, and just nine litres of water per person per day. These conditions are below humanitarian standards, which call for 20 litres of water per person per day and one latrine per 20 people. “We are still expecting several thousand refugees in the coming weeks. With this constant influx of refugees, we have to act quickly and efficiently to provide emergency services; we must provide sufficient shelter, water and sanitary facilities and reinforce overall emergency medical assistance,” says Jemmy. Since February, MSF has held more than 8,500 primary healthcare consultations in Fassala and Mbera in Mauritania. MSF has also been responding to the medical needs of Malian refugees in Niger and Burkina Faso. The organization is also working in the north of Mali in Timbuktu, Gao, Kidal and Mopti, where it offers primary healthcare to people displaced by violence.