The government in Mauritania has announced plans to resettle 9,000 slum-dwelling families from the outskirts of the capital, Nouakchott, to neighbourhoods in the city by the end of the year in an effort to wipe out slums. But residents and leaders of the receiving community, known as “Kosovo” for its war-like resource scarcity and extreme poverty, told IRIN the community’s already-strained services can ill-afford the expected influx.
“Kosovo is a forgotten community,” said Malouma Mint El Meidah, the national senator who represents Nouakchott’s Arafat department, which includes Kosovo, and is designated to receive almost half of the families to be resettled this year. “It is totally isolated. Women are dying while delivering. Children have no medical care, no schooling, nothing at all,” said the senator.
Though the Ministry of Health estimates 75 percent of the population has access to health care, in a 2006-2015 national health strategy paper it wrote that health data is of “poor quality”. According to the World Health Organization, which uses government data, 820 women died for every 100,000 live births in 2005.
The non-profit World Vision’s director for Arafat, Sarr Mamadou, told IRIN the government’s resettlement plan- which will overlap with the start of the rainy season in June- heightens an already precarious health situation. He told IRIN water, food and medical care are in scarce supply in Kosovo. “There are great potential risks of an even bigger population living in this unhealthy environment of waste.”
He said the closest health clinic is 9km away. “Severely ill patients have no means of transport.”
Kosovo resident Ebi Ould Mohamed Mahmoud told IRIN in emergencies, residents hire a taxi. “Health centre services are very basic and not enough to cover 800 families’ needs [estimated current community population]. This is a working community where the highest paid professionals are construction workers who may earn up to US$5 per day- if really lucky.”
Mohamed Bah with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Nouakchott told IRIN the coming rains could aggravate “the already fragile situation of [child] health.” He estimated about one-third of Kosovo’s community is vulnerable. “We are talking about 20,000 people [moving] to an already vulnerable zone.”
|...We are talking about 20,000 people [moving] to an already vulnerable zone...|
Resident Jemila Mint Oumar told IRIN the situation for women is particularly poor. “We feel isolated. One young daughter was raped yesterday at noon by a boy selling barrels of water. Everything is missing here…even safety.” She said residents use traditional and home remedies to self-medicate because it is hard to afford transport to health clinics.
“It costs $3 to get to the city. Who has that money?” asked Oumar. “I tried once to sell fruit, but people did not have money to buy them and my fruit rotted.” With few work opportunities, she said single mothers struggle to “feed their babies by any means.”
But the director of the government agency responsible for the resettlement, National Agency of Urban Development, told IRIN the government has already taken into consideration the need for more services. “Feasibility studies have already been conducted for contractors to submit bids to construct needed infrastructure in Kosovo,” said Mohamed Mahmoude Ould Ahmed. The director added that 100 of the 250 hectares designated for the 4000 families expected to settle in Kosovo have been cleared.
But Ahmed said the problem with relocating a total of 24,000 families living in the slums over the next three years is that some of them prefer money over resettlement. “The biggest obstacle [to wiping out slums] is the mentality of [slum-dwellers] selling land on the black market.”
Ahmed said some of the resettled will illegally sell their new land plots and return to the desert to set up a new shanty town where they will be joined by others. “That community will then claim it has no services, that its needs are not met and demand government assistance. This [destroying slums] is a never-ending struggle.”