TANZANIA: "Incredible Pressure" on Refugee Operations [19990728]

TANZANIA: "Incredible Pressure" on Refugee Operations [19990728]

TANZANIA: "Incredible pressure" on refugee operations

[This IRIN report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

NAIROBI, 28 July (IRIN) - The situation of refugees who have fled the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to the Kigoma region of western Tanzania has become a great concern to humanitarian agencies, struggling to provide food, health services and drinking water in camps designed for much smaller numbers.

In addition, hundreds every day are still fleeing the fighting in DRC, humanitarian organisations said. "It doesn't matter what they are saying at the peace talks, the people are not listening - they're crossing to Tanzania at the first opportunity," John Sparrow, press officer with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), told IRIN on Wednesday.

Lugufu camp, one of two catering for the Congolese arrivals, was already "seriously overcrowded" with 62,000 registered refugees in a facility designed for 40,000, according to the Federation, which supports the Tanzanian Red Cross in running the camp. Sparrow said tension in Lugufu was rising as overcrowding increased, and the continuing arrival of an average 5,000 Congolese each week was exacerbating the difficulties. "It's putting incredible pressure on us. Right at the moment we're struggling," he added.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR confirmed to IRIN the problems of overcrowding and refugee care at Lugufu and at Nyarugusu, the other camp in western Kigoma that caters for Congolese refugees. Spokesman Peter Kessler cited refugee figures of 55,000 for Lugufu and 37,000 for Nyarugusu, adding that both camps were overcrowded and a site for a third camp would have to be found. "There is a serious problem," Kessler said, adding however that refugee numbers were somewhat inflated by double registrations and would have to be revalidated.

He noted the Tanzanian government had identified a potential site for a new camp at Karago, some 60 km south of Kigoma, but said it was on the wrong side of the Malagarasi River for refugees and was not financially viable for UNHCR because it would mean building a US $3 million bridge. The agency did not undertake such infrastructural projects and already had severe budgetary limitations on its African operations, he said.

At Lugufu, initially established in February 1997, food rations have been cut by about a third and the water supply, drawn from the Malagarasi River and treated, had been cut from 17 litres per person per day to about 12 litres, said Sparrow. While the Federation was busy working on a new pipeline with greater capacity and had introduced longer pumping hours, a system that had coped well for up to 45,000 camp residents was now struggling to cope with current numbers, Sparrow added.

The Federation is also concerned about rising - though not yet critical - mortality rates, especially among children under-five, coupled with persistent malaria, an increased incidence of pneumonia and a few cases of meningitis and cholera. Health services, which are also offered to the local population, have been "close to overwhelmed at times ... the alarm bells are ringing", said Sparrow.

"Refugees are frequently unhappy because the conditions Lugufu was offering cannot be sustained for the numbers we're coping with," he said. "There have been moments when it's been tense, when people have vented their frustrations. We're seeing reactions from the refugees that we should be taking very, very seriously - and we are."

Nyarugusu camp, in addition to being full, has "grave problems with malaria" and serious food supply problems which have led to reduced rations, about which the refugees are not very happy, Kessler said on Wednesday.

In an attempt to ease the situation in Kigoma, the Federation has identified a site where it hopes to establish an extension to Lugufu for 30,000 refugees. Discussions with UNHCR, the Tanzanian government and donors are at an advanced stage and the Federation is anticipating a decision "very, very soon", Sparrow told IRIN. "It's not a situation that can endure for long," he added.


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Item: irin-english-1310

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Copyright (c) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 1999

Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D

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