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Chad: adapting assistance to specific needs of the displaced in the east

08-04-2008 Interview

Following the failed offensive on the Chadian capital, N'Djamena in early February, increasingly frequent confrontations between armed opposition groups and the army continue in Chad, along with regular, localized inter-community violence in the East. Upon return from a visit to Chad, the ICRC's deputy director of operations, Dominik Stillhart, describes the current humanitarian situation and in particular ICRC's specific approach to assistance in Eastern Chad.

 
   
  ©ICRC/T. Gassmann/td-e-00478    
 
  Camp for internally displaced people at Arkoum, eastern Chad.    
     
   
  ©ICRC/T. Gassmann/td-e-00411    
 
  Goungor, eastern Chad. An ICRC delegate and local employee talk with a beneficiary of the ICRC economic security programme.    
     
   
  ©ICRC/T. Gassmann/td-e-00432    
 
  Borotha, eastern Chad. Women and children come to fetch water at the end of the day at a well that was rehabilitated by the ICRC.    
     
  
   
  ©ICRC    
 
  Dominik Stillhart    
     How would you describe the current humanitarian situation in Chad?  

The trend noticed late last year towards more frequent clashes between armed opposition groups and the army seems to be continuing: there was the failed offensive on the Chadian capi tal N'Djamena in early February and fighting around the eastern town of Adé in early April.

However, the non-international armed conflict between the government and armed opposition groups affects fewer civilians than the regular, very localized inter-community violence in the east, for example in the Dar Sila region and parts of northern Assoungha. National security forces are often absent from these regions, and dangerous conditions limit access for humanitarian organizations. This makes it difficult to ensure that people affected by fighting have access to adequate humanitarian assistance.

 You have just come back from a visit to Chad, including the east. What is the security situation like?  

    

The security situation in the east is still volatile. Despite this, some people have opted to return home, either temporarily, as they move to and fro between sites for the displaced and their villages, or permanently. However, many displaced people clearly do not want to return home, or cannot do so, mainly because of the danger involved. Displaced people who will not be able to go home any time soon will have to find a way of settling in their new communities and meeting their needs without relying on humanitarian aid.

In the Dar Sila region, for example, most people had to leave their villages because of fighting between rival communities. Displaced families from this region are among those least inclined to return home. In northern Assoungha, by contrast, tensions continue and the population's needs are growing, but the situation has not led to civilians fleeing their homes.

    

 What is the ICRC doing to help people affected by the conflict?  

    

    

    

The ICRC is trying to adapt its assistance and protection activities to the situation on the ground. While it is true that in some regions like Assoungha people have started to return to their villages, this does not mean that all displaced people can go home.

ICRC teams in eastern Chad are getting ready to distribute seed and food to cover the needs of farming communities during the three-month period leading up to the harvests in October or November. We will assist displaced families in Assoungha and Dar Sila, and around 3,000 families who have returned to the Borota region and 1,400 others who went back to Kawa in northern Assoungha. In total, nearly 57,000 people will receive seed, farming tools, cereals, beans, oil, sugar and salt.

 What is so specific about the ICRC's approach to assistance in eastern Chad?  

    

First, whenever possible the ICRC tries to prevent displacement by assisting people in their villages of origin. Where displacement has already occurred, we work near the villages of origin of the displaced population to give them the possibility of resuming work in their fields and becoming self-sufficient. We don't want our assistance to prolong or encourage displacement.

Secondly, provided the situation is safe enough, the ICRC supports the voluntary retu rn of displaced people through programmes tailored to their specific needs, such as agricultural projects and help with improving irrigation systems.

Thirdly, the ICRC has a neutral and independent approach to victims. As one of the few humanitarian organizations able to access rural areas, we can assess and address needs appropriately, including those of residents when required. All our assessments include looking at whether people have suffered violations of international humanitarian law and require protection.