Chad: New wave of displaced leaves aid workers floundering

DAKAR, 9 May 2007 (IRIN) - The United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have revised earlier appeals for emergency assistance in eastern Chad largely due to a sudden increase in the number of people displaced by violence in the area.

"We only knew of a total of about 40,000 displaced when we were preparing the previous CAP [Consolidated Appeal Process] in August," said Daniel Augstburger, senior emergency officer for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), "but in November the violence started spreading," he said.

Now around 140,000 people are known to have been displaced, mainly in the departments of Dar Sila and Dar Assongha, although aid groups are yet to complete a survey of all parts of the east, a vast and remote area with few roads, where aid workers are frequently robbed and attacked.

The displaced populations are believed to be mostly from the Dadjo and Massalites ethnic groups although attacks on so called 'Arab' communities are on the rise, the UN appeal document stated. "Additional displacements could still happen before the rainy season, particularly in areas bordering Darfur," it added.

The Chadian government has acknowledged it lacks the capacity to protect civilians as well as humanitarian workers in the area, the document stated. "Humanitarian workers often appear as the sole actors trying to cope with the situation," it said.

An ICRC statement issued on Wednesday appealed to donors for an additional 9.47 million Swiss francs (US $7.8 million), raising its total request for Chad to 26.6 million Swiss franc ($21.9 million). The ICRC said the additional money would be used to step up aid to 90,000 displaced people and to provide shelter.

The latest UN appeal is for some $23 million above the $171 million requested last year. The new money would go towards a 90-day plan of action that will begin on Friday.

The funds would mostly be used to deliver assistance ahead of the rainy season which usually begins in June and can last until October. During that period, access to many areas will become difficult and it will no longer be possible to plant seeds.

The plan includes some activities that would continue up until the end of the year, said Augstburger. "We can predict that little is likely to change during the rainy season. We don't think any political settlement or improvement in security is likely any time soon."

He said that the appeal is only to address the humanitarian crisis not eastern Chad's political or security crises. "There has not been much success is getting an international peacekeeping force and fighting is sure to continue," he said.

The appeal document states that the prospects of displaced people in the area returning home any time soon "appears limited."

Clashes between government troops and the armed opposition have resulted in large numbers of casualties said the ICRC. Its surgical teams have treated about 700 wounded.

Augstburger said eastern Chad is awash with armed groups, including Sudanese rebels and militiamen, and various rival local communities. "There are so many actors fighting each other that the violence has become a blur."