WEST AND CENTRAL AFRICA feature story for Mauritania

© UNICEF Mauritania/2009/Hamidi

Fatma, a volunteer, demonstrates proper hand-washing in a camp for more than 4,000 people displaced by August flooding, near Rosso Town in Trarza Region. UNICEF and its partners have organized community-based hygiene sessions in the camp.


ROSSO, Mauritania, September 2009 – When floods in August 2009 washed over Rosso, a town on the banks of the River Senegal, in August 2009, the disaster displaced more than 4,000 of its residents, forcing them to flee their homes and take refuge nearly 7 kilometres away.

Help to those affected by the floods arrived quickly from neighbouring villages and UNICEF and its partners. For example, UNICEF together with Médecins Sans Frontières and local authorities rapidly installed latrines in the temporary displacement camp and ensured the provision of soap, bleach and disinfectants as well as hygiene family kits that contained chlorine tablets, jerry cans and other utensils.

To further eliminate the risk of waterborne disease outbreaks in the temporary displacement camp sheltering the residents of Rosso, UNICEF and its partners organized community-based hygiene promotion sessions.  One volunteer is Fatma, a widow and a mother of four children.  She herself comes from the flooded part of Rosso town and is also taking refuge inside the camp.

Community workers trained Fatma and others living in the four Rosso town sectors on how to communicate hygiene-related messages like washing hands with soap during critical moments, the adequate use of latrines and water preservation.  Fatma has since worked endlessly to convince her community to adopt adequate personal hygienic practices to protect themselves and their children from waterborne diseases. She also spends time promoting the use of the newly installed latrines, advising them not to defecate in the open air.

Fatma additionally received training on promoting breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is especially important during times of displacement when access to nutrition or safe water may be non-existent or of poor quality.  As a result, Fatma also encourages young mothers in the camp to breastfeed in spite of the difficult and stressful situation.  Breastfeeding is safer for children, particularly when there is a lack of safe water that increases the risk of contamination or spread of waterborne disease.  After conducting her hygiene sessions in a community forum, Fatma goes with the other trainers to visit tent after tent, passing on the different messages to save lives.