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Food insecurity threatens as thousands of Malian refugees gather in desert

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29 February 2012 – More than 28,000 Malian refugees have been forced to seek refuge in the border region of Mauritania following the conflict between the Malian army and Tuareg rebels that broke out in northern Mali last month. Some refugees travelled days without sustenance to get to makeshift camps in Fassala and Mbéré in the south east of Mauritania.

Today, Wednesday 29 February, an initial shipment of 26 tonnes of medical and logistical supplies were delivered to Néma, 200 kilometres from Mbéré camp. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams are also starting medical activities. “We are in the middle of the desert in an area where water is a scarce commodity. Even more alarming, these people are isolated here: the nearest hospital is 6 hours away by road,” says Marie-Christine Férir, MSF’s Emergency Coordinator.

Food insecurity threatens both refugees and local people. The arrival of refugees in distress creates even greater pressure on Mauritanian families who have already been impoverished by bad harvests. “We know that amongst the refugees are pregnant women and children who are suffering from moderate to severe malnutrition,” says Férir. It is crucial that the youngest children, who are particularly fragile, are able to access free medical aid, as a malnourished child is more vulnerable to illnesses like measles, diarrhoea and respiratory infections. Similarly, a sick child is more susceptible to becoming malnourished.

Considering that the closest hospital is more than 200 km away, one of MSF’s priorities will be to provide prompt emergency care and stabilise serious cases before referring patients to the hospital in Néma. The new MSF clinic in Mbére camp will allow medical teams to provide a range of key services including consultations, nutritional screening, primary healthcare, prenatal care and vaccinations against infectious diseases like measles if necessary.

Since the beginning of February, MSF has been responding to the medical needs of refugees in Niger and Burkina Faso. The organisation is also working in the north of Mali, where it is offering primary healthcare to people displaced by fighting there.

MSF is also evaluating the nutritional situation of local people in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Senegal, Chad and Mauritania.