NDJAMENA, Sept 23 (AFP) — Poverty-stricken Chad is scraping the bottom of the barrel to host some 190,000 refugees who have fled Sudan’s Darfur region and has asked the world to “share the burden,” a refugee official said Thursday.
“We are a poor country but one of the most generous in terms of hospitality and welcome,” Mahamat Nour Abdoulaye, the secretary of Chad’s National Commission for the Reintegration of Refugees told AFP.
“Our people shared whatever food they had with the Darfurians. But now they have nothing while the refugees are getting rations. The presence of refugees has put an enormous burden on our shoulders.
“It’s time for the world to share the burden. It’s high time that Chadians who opened their doors and hearts also get some attention and relief.”
There are currently about 190,000 refugees from Darfur in Chad, Sudan’s impoverished arid western neighbour, and UN officials are bracing for the arrival of about another 100,000 if the situation in Sudan worsens.
While the eyes of the international community are riveted on the refugees from Darfur, both Chadian and UN officials agree that the people of this country — who have displayed big-hearted generosity — have been badly affected by the new arrivals.
“There is an impending disaster waiting to happen on this side if some issues are not addressed very soon,” said Kingsley Amaning, a senior UN official coordinating the organisation’s relief efforts in Chad.
Chad has one of the world’s most hostile climates and the desert country has received scarce rainfall, which has had a devastating impact on its harvest.
To add to its woes, locusts have devoured pasture land and crops in the central cereal-producing areas, Amaning said, forcing nomadic shepherds and others to move to the east where the Darfur refugees are lodged in 10 highly overpopulated camps.
Several things have gone haywire, Amaning admitted.
“There are about 40,000 refugees from the Central African Republic living in southern Chad who have not received food rations for the last two months because all that food has gone to the people from Darfur.
“We now want to launch an appeal to the world community that in this extremely inhospitable terrain where water and firewood are extremely precious, we have to have a unique relief effort in that we have to do things for the local population as well as the refugees.
“For example, if we build wells in camps, we must build some in areas or villages near the camps. The locals must have access to health centres and also to some relief measures,” Amaning said.
Abdoulaye added a litany of woes.
“It’s very, very difficult for locals to see those they gave food receive rations while they themselves are starving. The hospitals are overflowing. The roads, which are bad at the best of times, have been degraded by the constant coming and going of trucks loaded with food and equipment.”
“Education has come to a standstill in the east. We always had a shortage of teachers and now they are even more scarce as they flock to work for NGOs where the pay is higher.”
He said in the eastern town of Abeche, which houses one of the biggest refugee camps, rents have shot up more than four-fold due to the “presence of international organisations and so students who used to rent rooms to study there can no longer do so.”
Chad has borne the brunt of the 19-month conflict in Sudan’s western Darfur region, one of the country’s most marginalised regions, which was fueled by a black-led rebellion against Khartoum.
The Sudanese government responded by giving Arab militias known as the Janjaweed a free rein to crack down on the rebels and their supporters, thereby claiming the lives of some 50,000 people, according to UN estimates.