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Chad: Toll after south-east attacks greater than feared

Briefing notes

Chad: Toll after south-east attacks greater than feared

10 April 2007

We have updated information to report regarding the humanitarian situation in south-eastern Chad following brutal attacks on March 31 on the villages of Tiero and Marena, 45 km east of our sub-office in the village of Koukou-Angarana. Unfortunately, the situation has proven to be far worse than our previous expectations. More than 9,000 Chadians from 31 villages have now arrived at the new Habile site for internally displaced people (IDPs), joining another 9,000 who had fled earlier attacks in the region. Estimates of the number of dead have also increased substantially and now range between 200 and 400. Because most of the dead were buried where their bodies were found - often in common graves owing to their numbers - we may never know their exact number. Many who survived the initial attack - particularly those most vulnerable such as the elderly and young children - died in subsequent days from exhaustion and dehydration, often while fleeing.

Figures for the number of persons wounded have fortunately not greatly increased and now number 80 individuals. Many of the wounded were collected along the roadside by ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] and brought to the Goz Amir refugee camp health centre run by international NGO, COOPI [Cooperazione Internazionale]. Twenty-eight IDP children were admitted to the centre's therapeutic feeding centre, while 12 elderly Chadians are being treated for various ailments, especially exhaustion. More serious cases were referred for treatment to the COOPI-supported hospital in Goz Beida, a 2-hour drive from the camp.

The precise number of new IDPs remains unclear, and additional names are being presented to aid agencies daily. Furthermore, there have been some instances of previously displaced persons trying to infiltrate among the newly-arrived IDPs in the hope of receiving additional assistance. We distributed pens and notebooks to the heads of the 31 villages represented in the new Habile site in order to collect the names of those present, highlighting vulnerable persons, those missing, and those confirmed dead, to facilitate family tracing and other protection activities.

For many of the new arrivals, this was not first time they had been displaced; some have moved several times in the past year. An estimated 8,000 local residents and IDPs had been residing in Tiero and Marena.

The situation appears to have generally stabilized for the time being, with a massive deployment of Chadian military forces to the region. Due to increasing tensions between communities, all new IDPs were transferred within two days by UNHCR trucks or by their own means from the market place in Aradib to the new Habile site. The majority of the IDP population is comprised of women and children; the whereabouts of many men remain unknown.

On Sunday, an inter-agency assessment mission led by UNHCR to Tiero and Marena found a situation that one of our staff described as "apocalyptic." A week after the attack, decomposing bodies were still being found in the area, including those of two men - one an elderly man of 70, the other a 30-year-old father of eight children - who were shot dead about a kilometre outside the Mayo section of Tiero village. Security conditions had finally permitted family and friends to return to the area to bury them. Hundreds upon hundreds of homes had been burned to the ground, and a small fire was still burning in one section of Tiero village. An overwhelming stench came from the rotting carcasses of domestic animals such as donkeys, goats and chickens that had been hit by stray bullets, consumed by fire or died of thirst, as the owners had no time to untie them. Famished and frightened dogs barked incessantly. There were many indications that people had little or no time to flee, given that many essential household goods, food and domestic animals were left behind. Along the route could be seen belongings abandoned along the way by those who collapsed and were brought to Goz Amir camp health centre for treatment, or who died where they fell.

While much more remains to be done, rapid response by UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies has succeeded in reducing the mortality and suffering of the thousands of Chadians affected by this latest crisis. Items including plastic sheeting, soap, buckets and jerry cans provided by UNHCR and UNICEF have already been distributed by the international NGO Intersos to all new arrivals in Habile, with distribution of blankets and mats to take place in the coming days. A 45-day food ration consisting of 17.5 kg of cereals, 2.1 kg of beans, 2.1 litres of oil, 840 g of sugar and 21 g of salt provided by the World Food Programme was distributed by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Drinking water is provided delivered by truck by MSF-France, and distributed via two water bladders while the possibility of installing additional water pumps is being studied. COOPI has been vaccinating children against measles and providing them with Vitamin A supplement and de-worming medicine, while MSF-France has also been providing complementary health interventions. Chadian authorities have identified land and offered to lend their support, depending on gaps identified in the assistance being provided by international aid agencies.