The U.N. Refugee Agency and World Food Program are rushing relief supplies to refugee camps in western Algeria's Tindouf region. The United Nations reports more than 50,000 Sahrawi refugees were left homeless when torrential rains caused severe flooding late last week.
Floods in this desert region are extremely rare. The U.N. Refugee Agency says the torrential rains caught everyone by surprise. It says there were no preparations for such an event and the damage has been very severe.
UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis says three of the five refugee camps were badly hit.
"At least 50 percent of the housing has been completely destroyed," she said. "It is mainly mud-brick houses and they just dissolved under the heavy rains. So, we are preparing now to rush relief supplies to the area. There will be tents, blankets, jerry cans - all the sort of basic necessities of life. They will be coming from our regional warehouse in Jordan where these supplies were originally there for the Iraq emergency. So, one woman was reportedly killed and several people were injured by the floods."
A World Food Program assessment of the flood-struck area puts the number of victims at close to 60,000. WFP spokesman, Simon Pluess, calls the situation critical and says the agency is planning an emergency food distribution to affected families.
"Many people lost the food rations that had been distributed to them early this month," said Pluess. "So, WFP is now replenishing the February distribution that was lost. For the moment, people who were not affected are sharing with those who lost everything. Now, four of the five camps were badly hit and one camps, the smallest, which gives housing to some five to 10,000 people was so badly affected that people saw their homes and belongings washed away."
The five camps in the Tindoof area hosts refugees who fled Western Sahara in 1975. They escaped during the conflict between the Moroccan government and rebel Polisario Front over the right to govern the Territory after Spain withdrew. The UNHCR currently is supporting 90,000 of the most vulnerable refugees in five camps.