afrol News, 21 February - As three of the five Sahrawi refugee camps in the Tindouf region of western Algeria were hit earlier this month by heavy rains and flooding, the homeless refugees now totally depend on urgent foreign aid. First airplanes with tents and emergency food aid are arriving, but the rescue work is going too slow.
Portuguese and Italian air force planes delivered some 20 tonnes of tents to western Algeria's Tindouf region over the weekend for the over 50,000 Sahrawi refugees in three camps whose shelters were washed away by torrential rains, the UN's refugee agency UNHCR said today.
"In all, we plan to deliver more than 200 tonnes of relief supplies to the camps from our stockpiles elsewhere, so the airlift is crucial and we continue to appeal for additional air and financial support for the operation," Jennifer Pagonis, UNHCR spokesperson said in Geneva today.
"More than 25 flights will be needed to airlift all of the supplies, including more than 2,000 tents, plus tens of thousands of blankets, mattresses, plastic sheets and jerry cans," she added.
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. They started arriving in Algeria in 1976 after Spain withdrew from the Western Sahara and Moroccan troops occupied the territory. Algerian authorities, the EU and UNHCR are presently supporting 90,000 of the most vulnerable refugees in five camps in the Tindouf area.
More than half of the houses in Awserd, Smara and El Aiun camps near Tindouf were destroyed by the floodwaters, and 25 percent were badly damaged. The camp infrastructure also suffered enormous damage, including collapsed community buildings, Ms Pagonis said.
The UNHCR's Radhouane Nouicer, who visited the ruined camps earlier this week, said his team "saw significant destruction" and fear that the situation was becoming even worse. "What is worse is that many of the damaged houses will most probably collapse as soon as the mud dries," Mr Nouicer said.
While the Tindouf region has experienced smaller floods in the past, the recent flooding is the worst to hit the area since 1994, when UNHCR had to relocate all of Awserd camp to higher ground.
Aid to the Sahrawis is only slowly emerging. The European Commission's Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) is providing euro 500,000 to help supply tents, blankets and sheets to the affected population. Algerian authorities were first in providing tents and transportation assistance, according to UNHCR. Much more help was needed UNHCR noted.
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