Attacks on civilians in eastern Chad must not be allowed to reach levels seen in Darfur, said international aid agency, Oxfam, today as the UN Security Council prepares to decide whether to send a peacekeeping force to the country.
The number of internally displaced Chadians has quadrupled since May 2006, from 30,000 to more than 120,000 people, mostly as a result of violent attacks on villages.
In the last two weeks, attacks on civilians have intensified in the north-eastern province of Dar Tama, where traditional rivalries are spiralling into major conflict as armed groups become more organised, more numerous and better equipped. In the south-eastern province of Dar Sila, inter-ethnic clashes and attacks on villages, including cross-border raids from neighbouring Darfur, are being carried out with impunity. In the final week of January, dozens of civilians were killed in militia attacks on villages near Djimeze and Biltine.
“We are facing an extraordinary situation as more than 230,000 refugees, who fled attacks in Darfur in 2003 and 2004, are joined by thousands of Chadians fleeing a new wave of fighting at home,” said Roland Van Hauwermeiren, head of Oxfam in Chad. “Eastern Chad is one of the hardest places in the world to find water. And, despite our best efforts, some people are only receiving 4 to 5 litres of water per day when they should be receiving at least 15 litres.”
Oxfam is providing clean water to 30,000 displaced people in and around the town of Goz Beida, but is struggling to keep pace as more people arrive, and insecurity forces the number of staff to be cut back. Over the past two weeks, Oxfam has delivered three cargo planes full of water and sanitation equipment to eastern Chad. In addition to water pumps and a drilling rig, these planes have carried materials to construct emergency latrines for people who have been displaced by the violence.
Animal and human waste is scattered throughout the areas where displaced Chadians have settled, and children walk with bare feet.
“In some of the areas where we work, you’ve got 12,000 or 15,000 people, and not a single latrine. If further violence prevents us from building latrines quickly, it will be very hard to prevent the outbreak of infectious and water-borne diseases like diarrhoea, cholera and hepatitis,” said Van Hauwermeiren. “Every day, more and more people in eastern Chad are suffering the consequences of violent conflict, and the situation is spiralling out of control. We need to put an end to the attacks now.”
Oxfam appeals to Chadian authorities and the international community to take urgent and immediate action to stop inter-ethnic violence and assist those who have been affected by it. As the United Nations Security Council deliberates the deployment of an international force to eastern Chad, Oxfam reminds all parties to the conflict that:
- Priority must be given to the protection of civilians caught up in the conflict. Any international force deployed to Chad will need to direct its focus to the safety and security of the Sudanese refugees, Chadian displaced people, and local communities, to put an end to further attacks on civilian populations.
- Actions to stop violence against civilians must be taken swiftly and decisively. Should the UN Security Council decide to deploy a force this month, UN member states must make financial, logistical and human resources available for a full deployment immediately.
- Humanitarian actors must be able to provide assistance to those in need without coming under fire or attack themselves. It is crucial that any international force in Chad communicates clearly with all parties to the conflict about its focus on civilian protection, and makes every effort to respect and promote the neutrality and impartiality of humanitarian agencies.
- Short-term measures to improve civilian security in eastern Chad will need to be complemented by an inclusive national dialogue between a wide range of government, opposition and civil society actors. There can be no sustainable peace in Chad without a political process.