Chad: ICRC activities from January to March 2008
08-04-2008 Operational Update
With the cooling of fighting in eastern Chad, the displaced are cautiously returning to their homes. The ICRC is continuing its activities to assist vulnerable populations in a climate of deep insecurity, primarily due to increasing crime and banditry.
Situation from a humanitarian perspective
As 2007 drew to a close there were increasingly frequent clashes between armed opposition groups and the Chadian armed forces. The trend continued as 2008 began and reached a peak a month later when there was an attack on the capital, N'Djamena, and heavy fighting took place inside the city on 2 and 3 February.
Since the fighting stopped, the situation has gradually calmed, though the future is uncertain.
The return of humanitarian organizations to eastern Chad should make it possible to meet the needs of displaced people there. This area, in particular the territory north of Adé, is regularly hit by intercommunal fighting of a highly local nature. The suffering of the civilian population is made worse by the fact that there are no government authorities present to prevent the fighting and the small scale of the humanitarian effort makes it impossible to deal adequately with the consequences.
As in late 2007, crime and highway banditry pose a more serious threat to the safety of humanitarian personnel than the conduct of the warring parties themselves.
Despite the volatile situation, some civilians have left the camps for displaced people and started returning to their villages, either for brief stays or in the hope of settling once again in their homes. At the same time it is likely that the poor security conditions will make many displaced people unwilling or unable to return to their homes and that they will therefore seek to settle and make a living where they are.
And fina lly, explosive remnants of war remain a grave danger for civilians, especially children. Accidents remain frequent.
Distributing food and essential household items
A key part of the ICRC's work to assist people in the conflict environment is support for the initiatives taken by them to meet their own needs. The organization studies the way of life and the survival strategies of the community concerned in order to work out an adequate approach in conjunction with it.
In January, 60 families from the village of Abu Gulem received tarpaulins, mats, blankets and cooking utensils to enable them to return home. They had fled fighting between armed opposition groups and the Chadian army in November 2007 during which their houses were destroyed.
In February there was an influx across the border of refugees from the Sudanese villages of Seleia, Abu Suruj and Sirba. The ICRC distributed essential items such as household utensils to 5,120 people who had found refuge in Birak, near Dar Tama. This enabled the beneficiaries to get by while waiting to be registered and transferred elsewhere by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
To promote agricultural production, the ICRC in March furnished irrigation equipment and farming implements for the four market-gardening collectives in Dogdoré, where almost 30,000 displaced people are living.
In February and March, 29 veterinary assistants were trained in Goz Beida and Iriba. At the end of their course, they received a set of medicines and other items for the treatment of cattle. Their mission is to help some 1,450 families who depend on stock breeding for survival. The ICRC also provided support for a cattle-vaccination programme carried out by Chadian veterinary services and distributed items needed to care for sick animals ( medicines, lancets, etc.).
Providing clean drinking water
In close cooperation with the Chadian authorities, the ICRC worked to provide people living in urban and rural areas affected by the conflict with better access to water of adequate quality and quantity.
The ICRC finished refurbishing 12 open wells in the Assoungha area (Arkoum, Goz Baggar, Todoma and Alacha), and in Adré. Around 24,000 people now have enough water for their daily needs.
The second generator for the borehole in Adé was repaired to increase output. The eight adjoining tap stands, used by almost 13,000 people (internally displaced people and the local population), were also repaired and upgraded.
Improving the water supply in medical facilities
In Adré, where a topographic survey of the water-supply system was first carried out, the ICRC provided the committee managing the hydraulic network with plumbing and hydraulic-coupling equipment.
ICRC engineers also continued to assess the water-supply and sanitation systems in medical facilities supported by the organization, such as La Liberté hospital in N'Djamena and Abéché hospital. A temporary water-supply system was installed at Abéché hospital so that those wounded in the clashes of November 2007 could be treated. To make sure that the hospitals are able to cope with the arrival of large numbers of wounded patients, or prolonged power cuts, the ICRC is in the process of setting up an alternative water-supply system, with a submersible pump and a generator.
The renovation o f the latrines and showers at the Borota (Assoungha) health centre is now complete. This centre provides primary health care for around 20,000 people: displaced families, the local population, and people who have returned to their place of origin.
Helping the war-wounded
As the services of the main hospitals in N'Djamena were disrupted during the clashes, the ICRC deployed two surgical teams to ensure that wounded civilians and combatants received adequate treatment. It also supplied surgical equipment and dressing kits to six medical facilities which were treating the wounded in the city. According to ICRC estimates, around one thousand people were injured during the clashes.
Improving maternal and infant health
The ICRC medical team supports four health centres in the Assoungha region by carrying out construction work and providing medical supplies (drugs, dressings, etc). Since maternal and infant health is an area in which there are pressing needs and in which limited access to specialists can pose great risks to health, the ICRC offers basic training to traditional midwives. The aim is to reduce the risks faced by the mother and child during care and to help those working with women and communities recognize when their patients need to be referred to a health centre.
The ICRC has trained 78 traditional midwives, 33 of whom are now ready to begin work. These women have all received a birth kit and they will benefit from follow-up and further training.
Protecting the dignity and physical and mental integrity of the civilian population
In the sp ace of three months, the government and armed opposition groups clashed on two occasions, and large numbers of combatants were detained and captured.
In Chad, ICRC delegates visited 71 places of detention. Almost 4,000 detainees were visited and interviewed without witnesses, and 500 of them were followed up on an individual basis. The aim of these visits is to assess the situation and make recommendations to the authorities in order to improve the conditions of detention and treatment.
Despite their intensity, the clashes of November 2007 and February 2008 resulted in relatively few civilian casualties. Nevertheless, the ICRC continues to engage in dialogue with the parties to the conflict regarding civilians and the measures that must be taken to protect them from the conflict. Security and the set-up for helping people living in eastern Chad are also discussed during these bilateral talks.
Restoring family links
Tracing activities and the distribution of Red Cross messages continued in the 12 Sudanese refugee camps in eastern Chad. These services enable separated family members to maintain or restore contact with one another, and allow unaccompanied children and other children separated from their relatives to be reunited with their families. The ICRC is also monitoring 417 cases of children who have been separated from their families or who are unaccompanied.
As the telephone service was cut off during the clashes in February, the ICRC and the Red Cross of Chad offered inhabitants of N'Djamena the opportunity to call their relatives living abroad and exchange news of a strictly personal nature. Over 200 people who had been unable to speak to their families for almost a week were thus able to communicate with them.
Preventing violations of international humanitarian law
ICRC staff continued their efforts to raise awareness of the organization and of the rules of international humanitarian law which protect civilians during armed conflict. Information sessions for soldiers, police officers, community leaders, students and political authorities among others were regularly held in N'Djamena, Koundoul and various towns in eastern Chad.
In addition, the ICRC continued to support the Chadian authorities in their efforts to incorporate international humanitarian law in national legislation and in the procedures of the armed and security forces.
Cooperation with the Red Cross of Chad
The ICRC continued to support the Red Cross of Chad in its preparations for disaster-management, promoting the fundamental principles of humanitarian law, and restoring family links.
The country's Red Cross society has done much to maintain public health by playing a key role in recovering and burying the bodies of those killed in the February fighting. As in the November and December 2007 fighting, Red Cross volunteers saved lives by working impartially to bring the wounded to medical facilities still functioning in N'Djamena.