Growing group of refugees in Mauritania receive WASH services

28 May 2024 by The Water Diplomat

Water point in Mauritania refugee camp

According to a UNICEF flash update published in mid-May, there are currently some 180,000 refugees present in the Hodh Ech Chargui region of eastern Mauritania, and this number is expected to reach 240,000 by the end of the year. Amid upheaval in the Sahel region, Mauritania has remained stable and continues to host a growing refugee population which has grown from 74,000 in 2016 to the present 180,000. Part of the recent influx is related to the closure of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), after  which a spike was observed in the influx of refugees with an additional 55,000 individuals crossing the border, followed by 20,000 more in January and February.

Almost 100,000 refugees are currently being hosted in Mbera refugee camp, which was originally designed to accommodate 70,000 individuals, and a further 82,000 people are being hosted in local communities in the villages of Fassala and Megve. In these villages, the number of refugees outnumbers the host population. In terms of composition, 83% of the refugees in Mbera camp are women and children, while in the villages 75% of the refugees are women and children.

A needs assessment carried out by UNICEF together with Action Against Hunger (ACF) for the development of a multisectoral response plan found that access to drinking water is the first need expressed by refugees, followed by food and health/nutrition. In addition, where refugees are hosted in local villages, the water and sanitation related needs of the villages in question also rise, as systems were not designed to cope with such rapid changes in population. From the joint assessment, the costs of water and sanitation provision for the refugees have been estimated at just below U.S. $ 1,5 million as compared with the costs of nutrition and health at approximately U.S. $ 750,000 each. However, there is currently a funding gap of $ 800, 000 for WASH provision, and a total funding gap of $ 3.3 million out of the $ 4,5 million required.

In the process of service provision, local companies are selected through a competitive bidding process, and after selection and contracting of the partner, construction commences to enhance access to clean drinking water for both refugees and host communities. Similarly, other companies are enlisted to build (or restore) blocks of latrines and showers. Also, technicians are are hired to ensure the quality control of all construction works, while engaging the community in the process.

As part of its more generalized task of preventing malnutrition, ACF works to improve water and sanitation coverage and seeks to consolidate the Water, Hygiene and Sanitation (WASH) package within broader programmes focused on malnutrition, while also working to strengthen the capacity of local actors and structures to promote a healthy environment.

In the Mbera camp, Action Against Hunger focuses on the provision of regular water, hygiene and sanitation services to refugee and host populations to ensure that they have access to safe drinking water, quality sanitation services and an increase in good hygiene and behaviour change practices. The activities to date have focused on the production/treatment and distribution of drinking water for human use as well as facilitating access to water for economic activities (such as market gardening and stock watering). Currently, on average 1550m3/day are produced, of which 1455 m3 of treated water (93% of the total) is made available for a population of 102,266 people, amounting to 15 l/c/day. The remaining 7% of the water produced is intended for economic activities such as stock watering and irrigation of gardens.

In the realm of sanitation and public health, ACF works to construct or rehabilitate community latrines as well as gender-separated latrines in health and education facilities.  In total, 2686 community latrines, 15 latrines in health facilities, and 100 latrines in schools are currently functional. The latrine emptying technique is an approach that promotes the sustainability of sanitation facilities (increasing the lifespan of existing latrines). Beyond physical infrastructure, capacity building takes place of an association in the camp called the Refugee Volunteers for Camp Cleanliness (VRPC) on the themes of promoting knowledge, skills and practices in sanitation and hygiene contributes to behavioural change.

Outside the camp, ACF supports the villages which are hosts to refugees, in particular on the rehabilitation of water supply, the rehabilitation of sanitation facilities in a school which welcomes refugee children, and the rehabilitation of 3 pastoral wells for animals in the municipality of Féréni.

As needs continue to grow, projects under discussion include the construction of a borehole and a 300m3 water tower in Mbera Camp to be financed by the castle by the World Bank in the Mbera camp. Additionally, a social cohesion project is underway funded by the FPI (Service for Foreign Policy Instruments- of the European Commission). In this project, ACF intends to set up points in villages that host refugees to improve social cohesion.