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Tindouf flooding: UNHCR airlift scheduled to begin today

Briefing notes

Tindouf flooding: UNHCR airlift scheduled to begin today

17 February 2006

A UNHCR airlift of emergency relief supplies for more than 50,000 Sahrawi flood victims in western Algeria is scheduled to begin today from Jordan. Portugal, France, Italy, Belgium and the United States have offered airlift support. Today, the first Portuguese plane will fly to Jordan, where relief supplies from our regional warehouse in Jordan will be loaded. The supplies are scheduled to be flown to Oran, near Algiers, tomorrow, from where the Algerians will transport them on to Tindouf. Dozens of flights are needed during the coming week to quickly bring more than 2,000 lightweight tents, blankets, mattresses, plastic sheets and jerry cans to the affected refugees.

A UNHCR emergency team - including logistics, emergency, and water and sanitation specialists - arrived in Tindouf yesterday to reinforce our team already on the ground. A site planner is expected to arrive over the weekend. At the same time, a high-level UNHCR delegation, including the Geneva-based deputy director for the region, is visiting Tindouf with representatives from various donors. They visited Awserd camp yesterday and were shocked by the level of destruction. Laayoune and Smarra camp will be visited today.

UNHCR's teams in Tindouf have worked around the clock with other agencies to provide temporary solutions for the homeless people, and most have now been temporarily housed with other families in the camp, in tents, or at higher elevations. The houses are, however, overcrowded. Fifty percent of the shelters in the three camps - Awserd, Smara and Laayoune - were destroyed, and 25 percent were severely damaged. Half of the infrastructure of the camps has also collapsed - none of the clinics can be used, most hospitals, their pharmacies and equipment are heavily damaged and all schools have been destroyed.

Following a specific request from the Sahrawi authorities, UNHCR is also working on the transfer of 450 children and 50 support staff from the heavily affected boarding school, situated between Rabouni and Smara camp to a safer place away from the affected areas.

On Tuesday and Wednesday UNHCR and partners undertook an emergency water purification exercise in the three camps to stem the outbreak of disease. Water purification liquid has been provided to families and added to septic water tanks and to stagnant water, present all over the camps.

While smaller floods have happened in the region, this part of Algeria has not been so badly affected since 1994 when heavy rains and floods forced UNHCR to transfer Awserd camp to a higher location.

Sahrawi refugees started arriving in Algeria in 1976 after Spain withdrew from the Western Sahara and fighting broke out over its control. Most of the Sahrawi refugees have been living for more than 30 years in the desert regions of western Algeria, totally dependent on outside assistance.