6 things to know about the COVID-19 response in Algeria’s Tindouf refugee camps

As the COVID-19 pandemic brought much of the world to a halt, WFP and the humanitarian community in the Tindouf refugee camps in Algeria have stepped up their response.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its many economic and social effects pose an exceptional threat to refugees worldwide. The Tindouf camps in Algeria are no exception.

Here are six things to know about the humanitarian response to COVID-19 in the Tindouf refugee camps:

1. Life-saving assistance continues

WFP and its partners distribute basic food rations to thousands of Sahrawi refugee families to fight hunger. Photo: WFP/Amel Derras

Thousands of Sahrawi refugee men, women and children in the five Tindouf camps depend on external assistance. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that is true now more than ever. Malnutrition is already a challenge, and the pandemic is likely to increase food insecurity in the camps, where 88 percent of refugees are either food insecure or vulnerable to food insecurity.

WFP is continuing its life-saving activities to ensure that the basic food and nutrition needs of refugee families are covered. And over the coming three months, WFP will scale up the number of monthly food rations by 14 percent to support refugee families who depend on small businesses, such as shops or taxis who are likely to suffer from the economic shock of the crisis.

Over half of Sahrawi refugee women and young children are affected by anaemia, and experts believe that COVID-19 is particularly dangerous to people suffering from chronic and acute hunger as well as malnutrition. WFP continues its nutrition support to treat and prevent moderate acute malnutrition among pregnant and nursing mothers and children under 5.

Thousands of pregnant women, nursing mothers and children under 5 continue to receive nutrition support in local health centres. Photo: WFP/Katharina Meyer-Seipp

WFP and partners distribute basic food rations that cover a person’s daily energy intake of 2,100 kilocalories, thanks to donors like ECHO, Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland.

Other humanitarian actors like UNHCR, UNICEF and NGOs continue to provide basic services in health, water and sanitation (WASH), protection and education to ensure that the Sahrawi refugees have access to basic services.

2) Measures to protect staff, partners and beneficiaries

Life-saving activities must continue, but in a way that minimizes the risk of contacting or spreading the virus among beneficiaries and staff. In Tindouf refugee camps, WFP and its partners have taken measures at every step.

Visits to the camps by WFP staff are limited to the absolute minimum, and partner staff are also asked to limit interactions with beneficiaries. The use of personal protective gear like masks and gloves and respect for social distancing guidance are obligatory.

WFP and its partners put in place measures to limit the risk of spreading COVID-19 among beneficiaries and staff Photo: Algerian Red Crescent and CISP

When food arrives in the warehouse, warehouse staff and drivers must follow a series of preventive measures that include keeping distance, sanitizing hands with hydro-alcoholic gel, wearing masks, and spraying and sterilizing trucks and containers before opening and unloading. The warehouses must be aired out and the food ventilated frequently.

To prevent the risk of contacting or spreading COVID-19, trucks and containers are being sterilized when they arrive at the warehouses Photo: Algerian Red Crescent

At food distribution points, neighbourhood representatives of local food committees receive the food and are responsible for delivering it to families’ homes. This system avoids overcrowding and limits contact between beneficiaries.

Neighbourhood representatives of local food committees receiving the food at a WFP distribution point and delivered to families to avoid overcrowding. Photo: WFP/Wafaa Soussi

3) Information is key in the battle against COVID-19

Information is critical to identify who needs assistance and how the crisis is impacting the people we serve.

With the help of its local partners, WFP is conducting an assessment on the pandemic’s impact; over 500 refugee families have been interviewed in all five refugee camps to evaluate the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on their food security. This information will allow WFP and other humanitarian actors to fine tune their response and ensure that everyone in need receives assistance.

WFP is also conducting a market survey across the five refugee camps to monitor the pandemic’s impact on food availability and prices in local shops.

Sahrawi refugee women are being interviewed during the COVID-10 household impact assessment on the impact of the current crisis on their household. Photo: CISP

4) It’s a team effort

No single organization can respond to the COVID-19 crisis alone.

WFP is working closely with its sister agencies UNHCR and UNICEF, the NGO community and the main partner in the camps, the Algerian Red Crescent. Only a coordinated response that considers the different dimensions of the crisis can successfully prevent the virus’ spread and lessen the economic and social impact on the refugee community.

WFP and its humanitarian partners have issued a comprehensive needs assessment to prevent and respond to COVID-19 and jointly appealed to donors for funds to cover the humanitarian needs during the pandemic.

5) The refugee community is at the heart of the response

Refugee volunteers always play an important role in the Tindouf refugee camp, with most health and education staff coming from the community. In a period when access to the camps is limited, the Sahrawi refugees serve as critical links, ensuring that life-saving activities are implemented.

Members of the refugee community organize food distributions. Photo: WFP/Amel Derras

For its food assistance, WFP relies on a well-established network of food committees in all five camps. The members — most of whom are women — know their own community well and ensure that WFP’s assistance reaches the most vulnerable members of the community.

6) WFP is helping the refugees prepare for the what’s to come

While the world is currently absorbed with managing and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be a time after.

WFP is already preparing for the reopening of schools to encourage refugee children to return to their studies through its school meals programme, supported by France, Switzerland, Germany and Choitram and Mastercard.

The complementary livelihood activities are limited right now, but plants and trees continue to grow thanks to Waterboxxes in the H2Optimal project.

Plants and vegetables continue to grow as part of the H2Optimal project. Photo: OXFAM

The fish in the fish farm also continue to grow and multiply.

WFP’s fish farm raises Tilapia fish to provide Sahrawi refugees access to animal protein Photo: WFP/Katharina Meyer-Seipp

WFP is preparing to scale up these activities as the crisis abates in order to limit the economic fallout of the COVID-19 crisis and support the Sahrawi refugees to increase food security in the camps through new innovative approaches.

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme