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Flooding brings chaos and desperation to Alagoas State, Brazil

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MSF response focused on mental health and distribution of emergency relief.

In June, heavy floods hit Alagoas and Pernambuco States in northern Brazil, where the flooding left thousands of houses completely destroyed. The four areas most affected are Branquinha, Santana do Mundau, Uniao dos Palmares and Murici. In some places, the entire population has been affected by the disaster and lots of families have lost all their belongings.

An MSF team of eight is currently providing assistance on the ground and assessing the humanitarian needs together with Brazil’s State Emergency Committee.

“The situation in the biggest centres is chaotic and unbearable,” said MSF psychologist Christina Sutter. “Some families don’t have private space where they can put their belongings. Others have nothing, sleeping on the floor together with everyone else. The smell of urine and sweat is strong. There is a lack of hygiene, with a bad air circulation, and the presence of pets also worsens the situation.”

At the local health units, the main symptoms people are expressing are anxiety, depression, suicide ideation, insomnia, and nightmares. Two MSF psychologists have been providing individual consultations in health units at Branquinha village. They will also train local medical and non-medical staff on mental health care and help them better identify mental health problems in patients, as well as lead group discussions and individual counselling sessions for those who need it.

An estimated 25,000 people are currently displaced, staying in collective centres.

In order to improve living conditions MSF will distribute 3,000 hygiene kits consisting of soaps, towels, basins and other hygiene material, as well as 3,000 kits with other non-food items such as plastic sheets, buckets, ropes, and bed nets. MSF will also donate 50 sets of material to clean latrines and will be evaluating the needs for water and sanitation support.

In the collective centres, violence has been on the rise.

“We have visited collective shelters in Branquinha and Murici and these places are getting more and more violent,” said Ana Lucia Bueno, MSF coordinator in Alagoas State. “Many displaced people start to get desperate and this leads to tensions. Everyday there are fights, in some cases with knives. We are concerned about the safety conditions in the shelters.”

The medical situation also needs to be monitored as cases of dengue and leptospirosis – a bacterial disease caused by direct contact with urine or infected animals – have been reported. An MSF doctor has arrived on the ground to follow up the epidemiological situation.

MSF has worked in Brazil since 1991.