The forgotten population of Eastern Chad

"The violence continues, the population continues to move and the vital needs increasing. Protection and assistance are already virtually non-existent."

The main aid organisations have drastically reduced their programmes in eastern Chad. It is the Sudanese refugees from Darfur who will suffer from this decision, as well as the internally displaced Chadians who have fled the violence of various armed groups. Despite difficult security conditions, MSF is maintaining its assistance programmes.

On Gozbeida's dirt track airstrip, which stretches out in the middle of nowhere, humanitarian workers struggle to get a place on the small plane that goes to Abeche, the largest town in the region. The regular flight service is not enough to evacuate the employees of the main aid organisations. Invoking the security situation, the World Food Programme, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and many other private organisations have drastically reduced their intervention capacities in Dar Sila, as well as in all eastern Chad.

This region, which borders Sudan, has seen the arrival of Sudanese refugees fleeing Darfur, but it is above all the scene of violence against Chadian civilians. Several tens of thousands of civilians have fled their villages to escape organised attacks, pillaging and murders committed by different armed groups since the end of 2005.

"Until recently, the United Nations were focused on the Sudanese refugees in Chad and had shown little interest in the internally displaced population (IDP). Today, despite the fact that the violence is increasing and that more assistance is need to help them, their decision seems to me to be disproportionate", regrets Filipe Ribeiro, MSF head of mission in Chad. "Of course the security conditions are difficult, but for the moment we feel it is still possible to work here" he adds.

The retreat of part of the assistance organisations only increases the IDP's feeling that they are being abandoned. The Chadian administration staff and army have also largely evacuated the zones nearest the trouble spots, delegating the protection of civilians to self-defence militia...

MSF decided to open a programme near Ade and Koloy, and then in Dogdoré in the extreme east of Dar Sila (a few dozen kilometres from Sudan), after a series of particularly violent raids forced the population of several villages to flee. The activities are constantly adapted to the changing security situation, but nevertheless try to respond to the needs of the different displacements of population.

At the end of October the Koloy programme was evacuated because of the security situation. The village was attacked on November 11th and the MSF base was pillaged. The IDPs from Koloy and its surrounding areas fled to Ade, one days walk northwards, others - in disarray - fled all the way to Darfur...

"For some people it is their third or fourth displacement" continues Felipe. "That it why it is so difficult: trying to meet the essential needs of a very mobile population, while providing quality medical care". On the sites where they have settled, the IPDs are totally destitute, having lost all their possessions to their aggressors and deprived of their usual resources from livestock and agriculture. Although the millet, peanuts and sesame seeds are ripe for harvest, they do not dare go back to their fields. The families' survival depends on their meagre reserves and a few hundred CFA francs earned through selling, in the market, wood and straw collected in the bush.

Although the MSF medical teams have not yet noticed an increase in malnutrition in their consultations, the main concern is the IDP¡¦s food and water situation. "The World Food Programme has announced that the food distribution planned for 56,000 people will not take place...," explains Filipe. "I'm also very worried about the water situation. Before the arrival of the IDPs, water was already scarce is these semi-arid regions. Today, the population in certain villages has quadrupled and with the dry season water is going to become more and more scarce".

In Dogdore, where 15,000 IDPs have gathered in a town of originally 3000 inhabitants, the pumping and water treatment station installed by MSF provides 180,000 litres of water a day. However many other IDP sites do not have this type of equipment and the water consumed is often of poor quality. In Ade, where the water tower is barely functioning since the army left and where the inhabitants have to pay 250 CFA francs for 20 litres of water, diarrhoea is one of the main pathologies among children.

Two seriously dehydrated children were recently treated by our medical teams. "All the factors are present for the situation to deteriorate," warns Filipe Ribeiro. "The violence continues, the population continues to move and the vital needs increasing. Protection and assistance are already virtually non-existent; there is a risk that it may will disappear altogether."

In Dogdore, where 15,000 IDPs have gathered in a town of originally 3000 inhabitants, MSF's programme consists of a health centre, a mobile clinic in remote areas and a hospitalisation unit to treat the wounded and serious medical cases. 180,000 litres of water are distributed every day to the IDPs and residents from a pumping and water treatment station.

Medical consultations are also carried out several times a week in Ade. Emergency non-food items have been distributed to over 1000 families. Another mobile team holds medical consultations in Kerfi, Tcharo and Habile, further to the west where populations from several villages have gathered after their villages were raided at the beginning of November.