First rains fail to dampen aid efforts in eastern Chad
ABECHE, Chad, May 28 (UNHCR) - The first rains have hit eastern Chad, giving the UN refugee agency a glimpse of upcoming challenges in its emergency operation to assist an estimated 125,000 refugees from the Darfur region of western Sudan.
On Thursday, heavy rains fell for 45 minutes in the Abéché area of eastern Chad. Because of the strong water flow, a UNHCR team on its way to Adré had to stop on one side of a river bed known locally as a "wadi". Another UNHCR team, which was returning to Abéché from Farchana camp, found themselves blocked on the other side of the same wadi. They had to abandon their car to avoid getting stuck in the mud and water, and crossed on foot to join their colleagues on the other side.
"This signals the sort of challenges we're going to face as the rainy season sets in," said UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis at a news briefing in Geneva Friday.
The refugee agency has been planning for a rainy day for months, intensifying efforts to relocate the refugees away from the insecure Chad-Sudan border into camps in eastern Chad, where they are at a safer distance from cross-border incursions and can receive proper assistance. More than 78,000 refugees have reached the seven camps so far.
"We are concerned that the rainy season is going to considerably slow down these movements very soon," warned Pagonis. "In a matter of weeks, many of the roads in eastern Chad will become impassable because of the rains."
The situation is especially urgent as cross-border attacks have not ceased. On Monday night, gunfire was heard near the village of Haraza, which is located at the border, near Tissi. In response to the shooting, the Chadian military reportedly pushed back what appeared to be a group of militia who were attempting to cross over into Chad, presumably to steal cattle, as has been the case in earlier incidents.
UNHCR is continuing its relocation convoys from the border, and flying in supplies to meet the needs of up to 150,000 refugees through the rainy season. A flight from Denmark arrived in Chad on Wednesday with plastic sheeting, portable warehouses and four-wheel-drive vehicles. The airlift of 7,000 tents from Karachi, Pakistan will start on Saturday, while a separate airlift of trucks, spare parts, generators and relief supplies is scheduled to leave Germany on Sunday. These 11 flights will be followed by a series of flights with humanitarian aid from UNHCR's stockpiles in Ngara, Tanzania.
In addition to this emergency aid, aid workers and health experts have started a nutrition and mortality survey in eastern Chad to make recommendations on improving the health situation in the region.
On Wednesday, a three-person team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States joined staff of UNHCR, the UN Children's Fund, the Chadian Minister of Health, and local and international NGOs in Abéché to conduct the survey, which will cover refugees at the camps and along the border, as well as local populations in the area. The 18-person team will split up to cover the Bahai/Kariari area, and Iridimi, Touloum and Kounoungo camps.
The survey, which is expected to last until June 22, will also include data on global mortality rates and mortality rates among children from 6 months to 5 years old.