Chad: saving lives as fighting subsides
07-02-2008 Operational Update
Over the weekend of 2-3 February, violent clashes between rebels and government troops in N'Djamena left hundreds injured, many dead and thousands fleeing the capital. Since Monday 4 February the fighting has died down, allowing the ICRC and Red Cross of Chad to bring life-saving assistance to the victims of the fighting.
Over the weekend of 2-3 February, fierce fighting shook the Chadian capital N'Djamena as armed groups entered the city. For two days, fierce clashes between the Chadian National Army and armed opposition groups forced civilians and humanitarian personnel to shelter in their homes. The exception was the Red Cross of Chad. Despite the danger, the volunteers of this organization showed exceptional courage and devotion to duty, administering first aid and evacuating the wounded despite the intense fighting. A large proportion of the international community was evacuated from N'Djamena, including the majority of humanitarian staff based in the capital. Shops and homes were looted. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), along with a very small number of international NGOs, decided not to leave, awaiting the moment when it could start to help those affected by the conflict.
On Monday 4 February, fighting subsided. Since then, the ICRC and the Red Cross of Chad have been doing all they can to bring life-saving assistance to the victims of the weekend's clashes.
Despite the relative calm, the future remains uncertain, and tens of thousands of people have streamed across the river Chari to seek refuge in Cameroon. There are also reports of Chadian refugees in Nigeria, Niger and the Central African Republic. In all these countries, the national Red Cross society acted immediately to welcome the refugees and organize initial assistance, pending mobilization of the international humanitarian community.
Red Cross activities in N'Djamena
Once the fighting had subsided, the ICRC was able to start work. The first priority was to treat those who had been wounded over the weekend. The ICRC estimates that up to 1,000 fighters and civilians were wounded. Medical facilities in N'Djamena have been overwhelmed by the number of people seeking treatment, a problem exacerbated by staff having been forced to flee the fighting. On Monday, the ICRC was able to deploy a surgical team to Liberty Hospital (Hôpital d e la Liberté) and has now provided dressing kits and surgical supplies to six medical facilities treating the wounded. A second ICRC surgical team arrived in N'Djamena on 7 February.
MSF France also has a surgical team, in the south of the city, and another MSF surgical team arrived on 6 February.
With the financial support of the ICRC, the Red Cross of Chad has deployed 35 volunteers to two hospitals, where they are providing the wounded with a basic level of care. The Red Cross of Chad is also evacuating the wounded.
Dealing with corpses
Many people died during the weekend. The Red Cross of Chad has been collecting bodies since Tuesday, with the support of the ICRC, and the local authorities have identified areas in which they can be buried. The ICRC and the Red Cross of Chad are very aware of the need to treat bodies with dignity and to ensure that families are informed. They are therefore making every attempt, even though it is often impossible, to identify bodies and record the locations where they have been buried. However, public health concerns make swift burial imperative and, sadly, it is likely that many of those buried will not be identified.
A certain number of opposition members have been detained. The ICRC is in daily contact with the Chadian authorities, in order to register people who have been arrested and monitor their conditions of detention and treatment. In accordance with standard ICRC practice, all dialogue between the ICRC and the detaining authorities remains bilateral and confidential.
Restoring family links
Many families became separated in the confusion of fleeing the fighting. Additionally, many people living outside Chad have lost contact with their families inside the country. The main telephone networks have not yet become functional again, and the ICRC and the Red Cross of Chad are looking into setting up systems to allow families to exchange news.
It would appear that those engaged in the fighting did not directly target the civilian population. However, the organization is concerned about the number of people killed and wounded in N'Djamena. The ICRC reminds all parties to the conflict that people not taking part in hostilities must not be harmed, that people who are no longer taking part in hostilities (such as wounded or captured fighters) must not be harmed, and that the Red Cross and medical services must be respected at all times.
The ICRC remains committed to helping people affected by the conflict, both those who have stayed in N'Djamena and those who have fled and who will need help from the humanitarian community in order to return.