Brazil: MSF activities for flood victims end in Alagoas

September 14, 2010

Brazil: MSF activities for flood victims end in Alagoas

After severe floods struck northern Brazil in June, MSF sent a team to help authorities improve conditions for the 25,000 people displaced from their homes in Alagoas state, and to provide counselling for people who had lost everything in the floods. Two months later, MSF is ending its emergency activities and calls on state authorities to find long-term solutions to help the flood victims.

In June, severe flooding hit Alagoas state, in northern Brazil; 34 people died, 54 were reported missing and 25,000 people were displaced from their homes. In the days immediately after the floods, an MSF team arrived from Rio de Janeiro to assess people’s needs. The team found thousands of people sheltering in churches, schools and other public buildings in conditions that were overcrowded and unsanitary.

“At one school, nearly one thousand people were sharing six latrines,” recalls Cristina Sutter, an MSF psychologist who arrived in the first few days. “The situation was chaotic in the bigger collective shelters. There was a strong smell of urine and a major lack of hygiene.”

To improve living conditions in these temporary shelters, MSF installed 61 taps, 11 showers and 14 latrines in places where they were most needed. MSF teams also distributed more than 1,000 washing kits containing items such as plastic bowls, towels, soap and toothbrushes.

In the villages of Branquinha and Murici, MSF staff also carried out 300 psychological consultations. “Many people had lost literally everything in the floods. As a result, many were suffering from mental disorders including anxiety, depression, insomnia, nightmares and thoughts of suicide,” says Cristina Sutter. “Mental health support is essential, as it helps prevent psychological and mental problems from becoming chronic. It helps people restructure and start their lives again in a healthier and more balanced manner.”

After two months in the region, MSF handed over its activities in Alagoas to local authorities and other organisations at the end of August. In order to ensure continuity of psychological care, MSF provided training to more than 200 local professionals as part of the handover process. “The local community has been very appreciative of our work,” says Mauro Nunes, MSF emergency coordinator. “Civil society was willing to help, but they didn’t really know how. But with all our experience in responding to emergencies, we have been able to show local organisations how they can improve their own responses in similar situations.”

Now the challenge for state authorities will be to ensure that displaced people in temporary shelters have reasonable living conditions and are rehoused as soon as possible. Temporary tented camps have been set up, but thousands of displaced families are still living in dire conditions in Murici and Branquinha. Houses need to be rebuilt, as do schools, health centres and other public facilities. The authorities will need to draw up a clear reconstruction plan and keep the affected communities well informed, so that people can slowly start to rebuild their lives.

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