Much of the international community is focused on Sudanese refugees, but the humanitarian relief group Doctors Without Borders says another group is being overlooked – Chadians. The agency, or MSF according to its French acronym, says 150,000 people are internally displaced within Chad. They are said to be the victims of both inter-communal violence and by attacks by suspected Arab-led militias (janjawid) across the porous border between the two countries. From Washington, VOA English to Africa reporter William Eagle reports.
MSF’s program manager for Chad, Emmanuel Drouhin, has just returned from the southeastern region of Dar Sila bordering Sudan.
The area is populated by many African ethnic groups and an Arab minority. Intercommunal violence has flared over the past year – with tens of thousands driven from their homes.
They’ve gathered around five towns: Dogdore, Ade, Koukou Kerfi, and Goz Beida, the administrative seat of Dar Sila region. New arrivals have come from the villages of Tioro and Marena, which were burned to the ground in early April.
Drouhin recounts his recent visit to the area, "I saw in new arrivals in Koukou living under trees with nothing; [they brought few belongings] from their homes, and they are waiting for assistance. People are living in bad conditions: crowded, no latrines, not enough water, or access to food or health care. There’s no capacity to hospitalize children with malnutrition and other people who are sick."
MSF says some of the internally displaced, or IDP’s, have constructed huts made of branches and straw that fail to protect against the intense heat of the day and the cool evenings. Nor are they expected to protect against the sand storms and moisture of the rainy season, which has just begun. Some are concerned that tensions could also arise if the refugees remain in the fields during planting season.
Health experts worry that the rains will also bring diseases such as malaria, diarrhea, and measles. MSF says a survey taken around Goz Beida in southeastern Chad shows that one child in five is suffering from malnutrition, while the death rates between March and May were so high, the group labeled them “catastrophic.”
Many of the towns – which themselves have only 10 thousand or so inhabitants – are overwhelmed by swelling numbers of internally displaced. There’s not only a lack of food, but rivers and traditional wells have dried up, leaving only muddy water to drink.
The United Nations (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA) launched a three-month relief effort that began in April. The effort included the provision of food, water and shelter. But Drouhin says more needs to be done, "What’s happened on the field is that they have sped up the operation, but for us it is too slow because the rainy season has started already, and they have not deployed enough food, health, water. We think now everyone has to speed up the operation if we don’t want to have a huge emergency with a lot of (deaths)."
MSF is focusing on the supply of therapeutic food for children, including the calorie-rich nutritional supplement made from peanuts called 'Plumpy Nut.' It’s also vaccinating all children under five against measles. The group has also brought in a drill that will help to provide 20 liters of water per person daily.
MSF is also calling for more support for health care, noting that the hospital in Goz Beida has beds for only about 40 people.
MSF says the response of aid organizations so far has not been adequate. According to Drouhin, there are too many development NGO’s in the area, but not enough emergency ones. He says resources and coordination are needed to avoid what he says could become a humanitarian catastrophe.