Chad: Thousands of Sudanese refugees caught in humanitarian disaster
MSF sends international staff and emergency supplies.
16 September 2003
The availability of food and potable water is very limited. The climate conditions are extreme with high temperatures by day and very cold nights while the rainy season has not ended yet. Due to these circumstances, the refugees who lack shelter are vulnerable to respiratory infections. Other health risks are potentially deadly diseases such as measles and whooping cough. The malnutrition level is higher than average.
Brussels/N'Djamena - Today, the international medical aid organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is sending a team of 11 international staff - mainly medical and logistical - to eastern Chad. Thousands of Sudanese refugees have fled Darfur state, western Sudan, to escape fighting between the government and rebels, seeking refuge in neighbouring Chad. A charter with medical and logistical equipment will be sent to eastern Chad tomorrow (September 17).
"Thousands of Sudanese refugees, mainly women and children, had to flee their homes and country completely empty handed, and are arriving in Chad in bad shape," says Sonia Peyrassol, MSF operational coordinator for Chad. "Many of them are staying in the villages of Tine and Birak, in eastern Chad.
"At first the local population took care of them but while the number of refugees is still rising, the coping mechanisms of the locals are stretched to their limits and new arrivals are on their own now. Therefore there's no time to waste, we have to send staff and supplies immediately to respond to the increasing needs."
The north-eastern part of Chad is dry and desert-like with only little possibility for agriculture. The availability of food and potable water is therefore very limited. The climate conditions are extreme with high temperatures by day and very cold nights while the rainy season has not ended yet. Due to these circumstances, the refugees who lack shelter are vulnerable to respiratory infections.
Other health risks are potentially deadly diseases such as measles and whooping cough. The malnutrition level, higher than average, is not alarming yet. However, since there is hardly any food to find, this might change soon.
"For the time being, our assessment team has not yet discovered epidemics or starvation but conditions are in place for a rapid deterioration of the situation. There is no infrastructure for the reception of refugees, local health centres are empty and the reference hospitals of Iriba and Guereda have no water, no medicines, no lab. Setting up health posts for the refugees is therefore crucial, although we will also donate medicines and medical equipment to the health structures for the local population," Sonia Peyrassol continues.
This evening, 11 expatriates - medical doctors, nurses, logisticians and administrators - will leave from Brussels to eastern Chad. They will work in the villages of Tine and Birak, providing assistance to the refugees by setting up health posts and providing medical consultations. Major health problems are currently respiratory infections and diarrhoea. The latter is especially a problem in Birak where the only available water comes from a small river.
On September 17, at 8pm local time, a full charter will leave from Ostend, Belgium, with 42 tons of material. It contains sanitary, medical, surgical and nutritional kits, medicines, water purification and logistical equipment.
"The supplies will fly via N'Djamena to Abeche and from there on it will be transported by road to Tine and Birak. Our teams on the ground should have the emergency operations up and running by the beginning of next week," concludes Sonia Peyrassol. Later on, MSF will also send a team of psychologists to eastern Chad to address the issue of sexual violence that is a common tool of war in Sudan.
Darfur state in Sudan is confronted with ongoing fighting between the government and the SLA-SLM. The refugee population in eastern Chad consists for 75% of women and children. Many women do not know the whereabouts of their husbands since they stayed behind with the cattle to protect it against theft.