Due to a spate of interethnic clashes as well as fighting between government troops and the armed opposition during the last month of 2006 that forced many Chadians to abandon their harvests and run for their lives, food shortages loom for many of the displaced. The ICRC's Anahita Kar describes the complex layers of conflict and why staff and volunteers are on a tight schedule to avert disaster.
What is the current humanitarian situation in Chad?
Chad has suffered through various complex layers of continuous conflict over the last one and a half years. There are the conflicts that are unique to Chad as well as the conflict in Darfur, which has spilled over in some respects, but is not at the core of the crisis in Chad. This point cannot be overemphasized and is something the media has sometimes neglected to point out. The Chadian conflict is of a Chadian nature. It is not a Sudanese conflict. There is an internal armed conflict going on between armed opposition groups that seek to overthrow the Government and the national army. The resulting violent clashes are partly responsible for the internal displacement.
There are few units of the national army left to protect the civilian population along the eastern border with Sudan. This has left the border communities unprotected and vulnerable as the national army concentrated on fighting the armed opposition. Consequently, there have been cross-border incursions from Sudan into Chad that end in attacks on civilian populations, usually for economic reasons, and led to more displacement.
Finally and most importantly, there has been a marked increase in interethnic tensions and inter-communal conflicts that have flared up in the last six months, further adding to the general insecurity and displacement of people.
By early 2007 all of these elements added up to a huge humanitarian crisis for the Chadian population in the east of the country. I would like to make the distinction between the Chadian displaced, who now number between 120,000 and 140,000 people, and the Sudanese refugees, who number approximately 235,000, and who have settled in camps along the eastern border since 2003. While the refugees are all in camps, the displaced usually flee towards villages that are linked to their ethnic or tribal group, or where they have some kind of family link. Usually the displaced ask host villages to take them on.
The displaced are dispersed all over the eastern border regions of Chad and Sudan.
What are the ICRC's priority activities at the moment?
We are currently on a tight schedule of food, seeds and tools distribution, as well as giving people shelter reinforcements and non-food items. The pressure to complete these distributions is due to the fact that the rainy season will begin at the end of June and go on until October. Once the rains come, access to the people in need will be virtually impossible, particularly for heavy means of transport. So we're trying to get to large numbers of displaced people, who have now been through multiple displacements and have lost their capacity to cope. Normally Chadians are used to stocking flour and a portion of their previous harvests, but not this time around, due to an outbreak of violence that began in September 2006. At that time there was a huge outbreak of violence, and many people were forced to flee in the middle of their harvest. Thus, there was no stockpiling of essential grains and therefore, following an ICRC study of the situation, we came to the conclusion that malnutrition is becoming a threat for a large portion of these displaced people (IDPs).
The main focus is food to help the IDPs cover their needs until the next harvest, as well as providing seeds and tools to those who have access to land, who were identified in the same study. The objective is to take full advantage of this planting season, which will hopefully lead to a good harvest after the rains that last until September. It is a central aim of the ICRC to avoid fixing the displaced populations in their host sites, to help them and the host communities to retain or regain their autonomy and to encourage the return of IDPs to their home villages whenever security allows. We've also provided non-food items, such as additional blankets, mats and tarpaulins to reinforce the existing temporary shelters, as well as some hygiene items and utensils that will be needed for the long rainy season.
The ICRC distributes to Chadian displaced people, rather than Sudanese refugees, who benefit from the aid of other humanitarian agencies. The only major activity the ICRC has with the Sudanese refugees in Chad is the re-establishment of family links. On average, 10,000 Red Cross messages are distributed between Sudanese refugees and their families in Darfur each year.
How do you think the situation will evolve over the next few months?
At the moment we're working very quickly to be able to provide for, and have access to, IDP beneficiaries before the rainy season starts. On the other hand, the rainy season normally brings calm from what we've seen in the past, due to the fact that moving around becomes very difficult, which usually prevents a proliferation of armed conflict. We expect, as we saw last year, a period of relative calm until the rains subside in October. That said, we will remain vigilant with regard to the plight of Chadian displaced populations.