WHO warns of epidemics among refugees in Tunisia

March 6, 2011 - 0:0

TUNIS (AFP) – The UN World Health Organization warned Thursday of risks of epidemics among the tens of thousands of people massed in southern Tunisia after fleeing violence in Libya.

""There is not for the moment a humanitarian crisis in the proper sense of the term. But the risks of epidemics are real,"" a WHO assistant director general, Eric Laroche, told a news briefing.
""We have a concentration of several tens of thousands of people. There are all the ingredients for an epidemic explosion,"" Laroche said after a visit to the zone where refugees are camped.
He warned of ""enormous overcrowding and a lack of hygienic conditions"" and said ""the pressing need is to have fewer and fewer people who are concentrated there.""
""We need to repatriate them by plane and ship and to set up a system to monitor epidemics and provide early warning of contagious diseases.""
Laroche praised the ""incredible"" solidarity of Tunisians with the refugees.
Three million dollars would be needed to cover the immediate requirements of the WHO in southern Tunisia, he said.
The health situation close to the border with Libya ""can change from one day to the next,"" Laroche went on, warning of a large-scale catastrophe if the refugees were not rapidly repatriated.
Laroche announced that a WHO team was due in eastern Libya on Thursday to evaluate needs among the people in this part of the country, which is controlled by opponents of Libyan leader Moamer Gaddafi.
Humanitarian organizations and the international community raced against time on Wednesday to prevent chaos and help the tens of thousands of people in precarious conditions on Tunisia's border with Libya.
The UN World Food Program announced an emergency aid plan worth 38.7 million dollars (27.9 million euros) to help 2.7 million people in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia.
The European Commission decided to increase the amount of its emergency aid from three to 10 million euros.