Friday, 16 November 2012

Is the Sahara Marathon Dangerous

Is the Sahara Marathon dangerous and should I be scared?

There are one or two articles on websites around the sahara marathon that point out that the area isn't very safe.

I know that the Saharawi are refugees from a war and logically, if they're still refugees, it's because the war never really finished, but I'd not really considered that we might be going into an actively dangerous region...

I have already linked to an article about how the Moroccan government have forcibly removed the UN international observers from the Western Sahara, but I figured that that was in the Western Sahara, well away from  the camps we're going to be visiting, and besides - we're going to be in Algeria not the Western Sahara.


This rather worrying news article (in French, so you may want to Google Translate it) talks about a kidnapping of foreign aid workers from one of the camps by Al-Qaeda just this time last year! One positive is that they were taken from the one refugee camp we aren't going to be running through (Rabouni camp). But it still talks about (as do other articles about the incident) how it wouldn't have been possible if there hadn't been AL-Qaeda sympathisers in the camp security/organisation.

Now I'm starting to wonder, so I check out the UK government travel advisory website for Algeria:

"Avoid all by essential travel to part(s) of the country"

...and in particular...

"We advise against all but essential travel to areas within 450km of the Mali and Niger borders and within 100km of the Mauritania border. This is due to the increasing threat from terrorism in southern Algeria."

So how close is Tindouf to the Mauritanian border?
Tindouf and the refugee camps are well within the 100km danger zone. Eeek!

John, with whom I'm running, also kindly sent me the link to the US version of the travel advice centre which says:

"The Department of State urges U.S. citizens who travel to Algeria to evaluate carefully the risks posed to their personal safety. There is a high threat of terrorism and kidnappings in Algeria. "

Double Oh.

Please don't tell my mum.

What about other health risks?

According to the UK health guide, the list of possible health hazards that may need vaccination (if indeed a vaccination is possible) are:

  • Yellow Fever - no risk. 
Phew! good start to the list!
  • Hepatitis A -  low risk, no vaccination needed for "most travellers" unless you're staying in an area with low hygiene standards. 
Like a refugee camp for example...
  • Hepatitis B  - 2-7% of the population are carriers. 
Good thing I have no intention of swapping bodily fluids with any of them then.
  • Rabies - Transmission may occur following contact with the saliva from an infected wild or domestic animal (including bats), most often via a bite or lick to an open wound. Risk of exposure is increased by type of activity (e.g. running, cycling). Pre-exposure vaccination should be given to adults and children who are travelling to remote areas where medical care is not readily available.
Hmmm I'm fairly sure I'll be ok, but I might ask the doc before I go.
  • TB - The average annual incidence of TB from 2006 to 2008 was greater than or equal to 40 cases per 100,000 population.
I had the BCG jab as school. Does that mean I'm still covered?
  • Typhoid - low risk, no vaccination needed for "most travellers" unless you're staying in an area with low hygiene standard. 
Like a refugee camp for example... That sounds familiar...
  • Malaria - What!? In the desert!? Oh, wait... No the desert is ok. 
No malaria in the desert. Phew!
  • Schistosomiasis (no vaccine available) - (Schistosomiasis is a parasitic flatworm infection of the intestinal or urinary system caused by one of several species of Schistosoma) - Travellers should avoid wading, swimming, or bathing in fresh water
No danger of that happening in the desert.

Well, it seems that the greatest danger comes in the form abduction, shooting and possible beheading rather than parasitic or viral attack...

John and I were sh*#ing ourselves at this point, so I picked up the phone to have a chat with one of the people who ran the race this year, just a few months after the kidnappings to find out just how dangerous it is.

To my huge relief, he very quickly said that this is a militarised area and there is a military escort for the whole group at all times. It's unnerving, he said, but you quickly get used to and it's just the way things are out there.

At least that's something to be positive about but I tell you I'm very glad we only have to spend a week there!

If we don't come back, please can you all agree to at least get us up to our fundraising target?

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