A deepening food crisis

Friday, April 20, 2012 • Thomas Ekelund

It looks like any other school yard, any other school day. But it is actually the first school day in Camp Mbere, a refugee camp only a few kilometres from the Malian border in Mauritania. Suddenly a camera attracts the attention and hundreds of children sets of, screaming and laughing. Like any other children.

When Kasongo Mutshaila makes his way through the ocean of screaming children, he can´t help it but laughing. As being the representative in Mauritania Kasongo is heading the ACT Alliance LWF work camp management in camp Mbere.  And he is proud.

“I am so grateful to all our staff working at the front line. It’s a high level of sacrifice on their part”, Kasongo says trying to drown out the laughing children. He says this is a risky environment considering the terrorist attacks in the region.

“The passion and commitment I can see here is stunning”, he says.

A safe haven in dire need of support

Clashes in Mali between Tuareg rebels and the army have left more than 60,000 people internally displaced and a similar number have fled to Mauritania and neighbouring countries. Camp Mbere receives in average more than 1,000 refugees per day, some days even more. In the middle of April the camp is hosting over 55,000 people, more than half of them children.

To Kasongo Mutshaila the numbers are all about needs. The daily rising influx of fleeing people means a constant gap between resources and needs. The needs are extremely urgent and vast, he underlines. With so many people sharing the same area, pressure on already stretched resources are enormous. Health and sanitation, water and food are absolute necessities and at the same time all relying on assets. Assets that simply are not there.

But to Kasongo, the solution is obvious. “We have to down-size the camp” he says. “We are already projecting a population of 80,000 refugees and diving the camp in two gives us the huge advance of easier logistics, less risk of spreading infections and a safer environment.” He has taken up the matter with the head of UNHCR but says that the Mauritanian government might be reluctant at first considering the security and the fight against terrorism.

Experienced aid worker

At Camp Mbere the Lutheran World Federation in Mauritania is head of camp management. That means coordinating all the NGOs working in the camp, analyzing the needs and rescourses, providing the refugees with information and building tents according to all applicable standards.

“Yes, it’s a huge responsibility we have. Besides all the physical practicalities we also need to make the mental situation bearable for the refugees. We need to start giving them psychosocial support to make the day somewhat normal in this abnormal situation”, Kasongo says smiling.

Kasongo knows what he is talking about. He has been an aid worker for almost 15 years. He has headed camps for refugees from Darfur and Rwanda in Congo and Chad, camps 5 times the size of Mbere.

A deepening food crisis is taken its toll

But the fighting in Mali is not the only issue of attention. The UN World Food Program says an early warning about a foreseen famine in Sahel was not followed by an early response.

It is not famine yet, but only rapid action would prevent further deterioration of the food security situation and avoid a full-scale crisis.

Kasongo says that LWF Mauritania, the only Act Alliance member in the country, is implementing an appeal to assist the drought affected population in Mauritania and Senegal.

The need for sustainable, structural solutions to food insecurity has helped shape ACT’s response to previous years’ crises and will continue to do so as this new humanitarian episode unfolds. ACT is working not only to provide immediate food aid, but also to help people hit by the crisis provide for themselves over the long term.

Fact box

According to the United Nations the cereal production is 26 percent lower than last year, with countries experiencing a decrease in cereal production of about 50 percent and suffering serious localized cereal deficits and severe fodder shortages.

The pastoralist’ situation is deteriorating quickly. Droughts, severe flooding, crop failure and rising food prices, depleted grain and livestock reserves resulting from previous years’ crises have compounded food insecurity in the region.

ACT Alliance member LWF/DWS Mauritania is responsible for camp management in Camp Mbere. That is;

  • Coordination all the NGOs present at Camp Mbere
  • Overlooking standards and quality at camp level
  • Community information – providing the right information considering the mix of people in the camp, also as a measure security.
  • Training staff in conflict management according to do no harm principles
  • Construction of camp and tents
  • Psychosocial assistance
  • The management team has completed the Inventory operation of tents. The total counted tents are at 4,469, with 4490 initially installed. That gives a loss due to damage of 21 tents, or 0.46%. These tents are installed in 21 blocks.