By David Tereshchuk *
October 29, 2012—Few regions of the world are beset by as many intractable difficulties as the arid Sahel of northern Africa. And few Sahelian countries are as beset as badly as Mauritania, a nation twice the size of France.
Across the region as a whole more than 18 million people face a food crisis in the wake of erratic weather that has brought appalling harvests and worsening water shortages since mid-2011.
And now Mauritania is additionally suffering an outbreak of cholera.
The situation is only deteriorating as this year’s rainy season sets in with heavy deluges, while clean drinking water is becoming increasingly scarcer. This will compound the already-deepening drought, which is considered to be the country’s worst for 15 years, with wells drying up and water flows being diverted from reservoirs and becoming heavily polluted. No headway can ever be made against a waterborne disease like cholera without access to clean potable water.
UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, has decided to step in—and in collaboration with the Canada-based international health charity GlobalMedic and the United Nations’ children’s program, UNICEF, it is helping to bring healthier water to Mauritania’s endangered communities.
In especial need, and a particular target for the UMCOR-supported effort, are vulnerable Mauritanian families and the growing number of refugees who are flooding across the country’s eastern and southern borders from Mali. Not just drought conditions and starvation, but political instability and violence as well are now driving many Malians from their homes.
The program will involve the purchase and distribution of water purification tablets known as “Aquatabs,” which kill the micro-organisms in water that cause cholera and also those that could bring typhoid and dysentery epidemics.
Another vital tool is the PUR water-purifying powder, which families can pour into a bucket of unclean water; within 20 minutes the water can be strained though a filtering cloth and all its pathogens will have been destroyed by PUR’s active ingredients.
UMCOR and its partners are providing 3.2 million Aquatabs, along with 330,000 packets or sachets of PUR.
UNICEF’s representative in Mauritania, Lucia Elmi, has pointed out that Mauritania’s government has little capacity to address such issues, and that there are “too few” nongovernmental organizations—only 15—operating in the country. There is much gratitude for outside initiatives such as that taken by GlobalMedic, UMCOR, and UNICEF, working closely with agencies on the ground. “What is driving us all is saving lives,” said Elmi.
“There is no doubt it will be difficult to reach children in a country this large and with populations so spread out,” Elmi added. “But all our responsibilities and mandates are to make sure every child counts. It is critical we respond now, especially to reach the poorest and most vulnerable, wherever they are.”
Your gift to UMCOR International Disaster Response Advance #982450 will help communities in Mauritania and elsewhere counter the effects of waterborne diseases.
*David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media analyst and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.