Emergency airlifts bring supplies to Sudanese refugees in Eastern Chad
ABECHE, Chad, Feb 13 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency is starting daily airlifts this weekend to bring more relief supplies into eastern Chad to reinforce its efforts in a race against time to move Sudanese refugees from the volatile border to safer sites further inland before the start of the rainy season in late May.
Th first air delivery is expected Saturday with 3,250 pieces of plastic sheeting and four large warehouse tents, called "Rubbhalls," from UNHCR stockpiles in Copenhagen for the new transit centre in Touloum and a new camp being set up in nearby Kounoungo.
Daily relief flights are planned next week from Tanzania to Abéché, with more plastic sheeting, jerry cans, kitchen sets, mosquito nets, tents and sanitary kits for 110,000 people - the estimated number of Sudanese refugees who have fled into Chad since civil conflict broke out in Sudan's western region of Darfur a year ago. Additional four-wheel-drive vehicles are also being brought into the area to allow UNHCR staff working from field offices in Iriba, Guéréda, Adré and Goz-Beida to cover more of the 600-km border area where the refugees remain scattered in inhospitable conditions.
The refugee agency has also deployed five additional international staff to eastern Chad, bringing the number of emergency staff on the ground to about 20. A three-person team has been sent to the southern towns of Goz Beida and Koukous-Angarana, and two more staff will join them next week. Technicians from the German agency THW (Technisches Hilfswerk) are finalizing camp management and water sanitation arrangements at a site in Goz Amer to start receiving refugees within the next 10 days. Relocating the refugees at the border in the south to Goz-Amer is a high priority as the region will be completely cut off during the rainy season.
Meanwhile, lack of water throughout the affected region is complicating efforts to move the refugees from the volatile border zone. The difficulty in finding sites with sufficient water to meet the needs of the refugees could slow down the relocation, as the agency does not want to move people without sufficient water available at the destination. The five camp sites identified so far may each be able to accommodate only 8,000 refugees due to lack of water, necessitating the identification of even more new sites to provide safer shelter for as many as 80,000 refugees.
Sites at Farchana and Touloum are already operational, and Kounoungo, Mile and Goz-Amer camps will be ready soon. UNHCR is continuing discussions with local authorities to select an additional site in the region of Ade.
Five hydrologists from UNHCR partner agencies Norwegian Church Aid and THW are continuing their work to determine the best spots for drilling near the refugee camps. Two Chadian companies have been hired to reinforce the German team from GTZ (Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit) that is drilling wells near Farchana.
In Touloum, water is being brought by truck from Iriba until wells on the site are operational. UNHCR's partner Norwegian Church Aid has set up two bladder tanks where water is stocked; three tap stations, provided by MSF-Belgium, are also working. In total, 20,000 litres of water are available daily in Touloum, which cover the needs of the refugees who have been transferred this week. On Wednesday, however, the generator which powers Iriba's water pump broke down, effectively cutting off the water pipeline for the transit centre. UNHCR negotiated with local authorities to be able to pump water from private wells. The sultan of the city of Iriba offered access to the well at his home. Water was also hauled in by truck from Tine to Touloum. UNHCR plans to provide a new generator to the Iriba residents to restore power to the main water pump.
So far, a total of 3,343 refugees have been moved from two border areas. Daily convoys from Tine, in the northern sector of the border, have moved 1,644 refugees to the transit centre at Touloum. Further south, 1,699 refugees have been relocated from the border near Adré to Farchana camp.
Additional funding is urgently needed to continue the operation and expand the relocation movements. So far, UNHCR has received just over $1,050,000 for the programme this year. Earlier estimates of the needs were at least $10.3 million for 2004, but the figure is being revised upwards in light of the tens of thousands of new arrivals into eastern Chad in the past two months.