27 November 2006 United Nations humanitarian agencies today appealed for the rapid restoration of order in eastern Chad after mobs looted nearly 500 tonnes of food and other supplies from warehouses storing vital aid for hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees from war-torn Darfur and Chadians displaced within their own country by rebel attacks.
“Stealing food from people who have lost everything is the most shameful and inhumane act that anyone can possibly commit,” UN World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director James Morris said.
Both he and UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) António Guterres warned that the aid lifeline in the remote region along the Chadian-Sudanese border was extremely precarious and urged all sides to honour humanitarian principles so that the flow of relief could continue.
Both agencies reported that their main warehouses in the eastern Chad town of Abeche, the hub for relief efforts for 218,000 Sudanese refugees and some 90,000 internally displaced Chadians, had been pillaged, reportedly by local residents, during turmoil on Saturday and Sunday, when Abeche was first occupied by rebel forces and then re-taken by government troops.
“There are more than 300,000 uprooted people in 12 refugee camps and various sites for internally displaced Chadians who are almost totally dependent on outside help from WFP, UNHCR and our partners,” Mr. Guterres said. “Chadian host communities also get help from us. The loss of our main stockpiles for the eastern region and the restrictions on our staff because of continuing insecurity are jeopardizing that fragile lifeline.”
Initial reports from WFP staff indicated that some 483 metric tonnes of food valued at some $500,000 had been looted from its warehouse in the centre of Abeche. Another WFP warehouse on the outskirts of town was untouched. All WFP food aid stocks, however, for December distributions to the refugee camps were already delivered and a substantial amount of food for January was also in place at the camps.
More WFP food deliveries for the Chad camps are expected shortly, with convoys already enroute from Khufra, Libya, with 1,140 metric tonnes of cereals and vegetable oil. WFP still needs another $5.5 million immediately to buy all necessary food before the start of the next rainy season in June.
UNHCR’s heavily looted warehouse contained some $1.3 million worth of relief items ranging from blankets, tents and plastic sheeting to stoves, kitchen sets, medical supplies, communications gear, and water purification and storage equipment, all essential supplies for running the remote refugee camps along a 600-kilometre stretch near the Sudanese border. An estimated 80 per cent of supplies were looted.
The warehouse is UNHCR’s central supply depot for the region, distributing to seven satellite warehouses closer to outlying camps. Stocks in those smaller outlying warehouses should help provide a buffer for the time being, but lost supplies will need to be replenished quickly.
Abeche was reported quiet today and local authorities said they would send out teams to try to locate and recover stolen aid supplies UNHCR has some 300 staff in Chad, including 95 internationals and over 200 nationals, mostly in the east. WFP has 44 international staff and 227 national staff, also mainly in the east.