Global perspective Human stories

Health crisis looms for over 300,000 in eastern Chad as turmoil continues, UN warns

Health crisis looms for over 300,000 in eastern Chad as turmoil continues, UN warns

More than 300,000 Sudanese refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and local villagers in eastern Chad are facing a potential health crisis following the withdrawal of many humanitarian workers in the face of ongoing military movements, rebel attacks and inter-communal tensions, United Nations agencies warned today.

“Many people living in camps and local communities have little access to health care and their situation could deteriorate quickly,” the UN World Health Organization (WHO) said. “Due to the reduced humanitarian health assistance, the health status of refugees and IDPs can rapidly deteriorate. The increase in the local population has overstretched the capacity of health services and aid agencies, while supply chains have been affected.”

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that the situation remained extremely volatile.

“We are working to ensure the basic needs of refugees such as water, food and primary health services are met while we continue the relocation of staff from the three northern locations of Bahai, Iriba and Guéréda to the main eastern town of Abéché or the Chadian capital N'Djamena,” UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva.

“We are keeping skeleton teams in place in these locations, where 110,000 refugees live in six camps,” she added, noting that over 400 international and local humanitarian staff had been relocated in the past 12 days, with 100 more still waiting to be moved from Guéréda.

The overall situation of 218,000 refugees from Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region, 90,000 displaced Chadians and thousands of villagers took a serious turn for the worse some two weeks ago when Abéché, hub for relief efforts, was occupied by rebel forces, then re-taken by Government troops. During the turmoil the main UN relief supply warehouses were pillaged, reportedly by local residents.

Since then military movements and armed attacks in the region have continued to cause havoc. Just this Wednesday, 13 armed men raided the market in Kounoungo refugee camp near Guéréda. There was an exchange of fire with the gendarmes responsible for camp security. One local person was wounded.

Ms. Pagonis said contingency plans were in place to keep the six camps running for a month after UNHCR and its partners trained refugee committees to take on services such as water and sanitation, food distribution, and health. “Refugees have responded quickly to help run the camps but are concerned about the deteriorating security situation,” she said.

While the primary causes of illness among refugees were acute respiratory infections, diarrhoea and malaria, WHO said there were a growing number of injuries from fighting between rebels and government soldiers. Nearly 200 people were reportedly injured last week in Guéréda and Abéché.

“As violence intensifies, the number of persons wounded by fighting is becoming a serious concern,” the agency’s coordinator in Abéché, Innocent Nzeyimana, said. “Local personnel is not sufficiently trained nor local resources sufficient to handle these cases.”

The situation also remains precarious in south-eastern Chad around Goz Beida and Koukou and along the border with Sudan with regular reports of inter-communal tensions, attacks on refugees and displaced Chadians, villages being re-attacked and burned, cattle theft and intrusions of cattle herds on cultivated fields.

“Refugees in Goz Amir camp situated in this area fear for their security and report that refugees who go to harvest their fields, allocated by the local authorities, have frequently been threatened by armed men in military uniforms,” Ms. Pagonis said.