Oxfam is sending a plane carrying $NZ 580,000 of emergency water and sanitation equipment to Chad to help thousands of refugees forced from their villages in the Darfur region of western Sudan.
The DC8 plane will carry almost 40 tonnes of material which will be used to construct emergency water and sanitation facilities for about 20,000 refugees.
"The refugees are struggling to survive in a barren desert region where water is scarce and temperatures can hit 50 degrees," said Oxfam's Jane Beesley who has just returned from eastern Chad.
"I saw people queuing for hours in hot sun and sand storms, desperate for a water delivery. When a tanker arrived, children were scrambling to catch drops in their mouths."
The equipment on the Oxfam plane: pipes, pumps, tanks and purifying kits - will enable engineers to set up a water supply at a new refugee camp called Amnabak near the Sudanese border.
The risk of a major disease outbreak is increasing with the onset of the rainy season as human waste is washed into water sources. This makes the need for proper toilets even more urgent. The Oxfam plane will be carrying latrine parts and digging kits.
"I saw 2000 people in one camp with no toilet," said Jane Beesley. "With the rains starting, this is a public health disaster. Young children are already dying of diarrhoea and health workers are worried that cholera could strike."