A wave of violence has forced the temporary evacuation of more than 400 aid workers in eastern Chad in the past two weeks, severely interrupting the provision of humanitarian aid, said international agency Oxfam today. The serious deterioration of security in the region bordering Darfur, Sudan, threatens to cause a major health and food crisis for hundreds of thousands of people.
In the past three weeks, rebel groups and government forces have been fighting in and around several cities in eastern Chad, including some of the most important humanitarian bases, such as Abeche, Goz Beida, Guereda and Biltine. Fighting has interrupted humanitarian activities and aid supply chains. The six refugee camps north of Abeche, sheltering 110,000 men, women and children from Darfur, have been the most affected. Because of the growing insecurity, the United Nations has also stopped delivering food aid to 56,000 Chadians who recently fled their villages as a result of interethnic violence.
Approximately 25 humanitarian workers have suffered serious attacks and the warehouses of three aid agencies have been looted in Abeche and Goz Beida in recent weeks. Tons of essential materials, including food, tents, kitchen sets, and medical supplies, have been lost. More than 50 humanitarian vehicles have been hijacked this year alone.
As a result, humanitarian agencies have reduced their programs in eastern Chad to strictly lifesaving activities, such as the provision of health care, drinking water, and food.
Oxfam has temporarily evacuated 16 of its 24 international aid workers from eastern Chad, moving some to the Chadian capital, N’djamena, and others outside the country. Remaining in eastern Chad are the minimum number of staffers required to maintain the water supply for 32,000 refugees in two camps in Djabal and Goz Amer, and for some 20,000 Chadians who have fled recent violence in the area.
“Thousands of displaced people risk being cut off from lifesaving aid as the security situation forces us to evacuate staff,” said Roland Van Hauwermeiren, Oxfam’s country program manager in Chad. "Though some aid is continuing to reach people, unless we can get back in soon, the situation will start to deteriorate rapidly."
Humanitarian agencies have been helping 220,000 refugees from Darfur as well as many of the 90,000 Chadians who have fled violence in their villages in the past few months. Some 60 villages have been attacked by armed men, causing the death of hundreds of civilians and the displacement of more than 25,000 people who have sought assistance and protection around the refugee camps.
Oxfam is calling for all parties in the conflict to respect international humanitarian law, which requires that civilians be kept safe and have access to assistance from impartial humanitarian agencies. Oxfam is also asking the United Nations to maintain essential humanitarian coordination functions in eastern Chad. A total withdrawal by UN agencies and international aid groups would give free reign to unrest and uncontrolled violence in the region.