Flooding hampers UN humanitarian aid efforts for refugees in Chad

20 September 2007 – Heavy rainy season downpours have left areas of eastern Chad flooded and seriously hampered efforts by United Nations and other aid agencies to help tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Although food is not a major problem because supplies were stockpiled in camps in April and May, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is having difficulty supplying needed goods such as new tents, while the agency and others have delayed or cancelled missions in the region.

Aid can only be transported to some outposts by air and even then the rain often makes airstrips unusable, UNHCR said in its latest update from Abeche in eastern Chad. Earlier this month, two flights to Goz Beida were cancelled for two days in a row because the airstrip could not be used.

“We haven't seen such flooding in the past two years. There was so much rain that the roads and wadis became almost impassable,” UNHCR driver Khalil Ousmane said. Taking detours to avoid flooded areas meant that journeys took up to three times as long as normal, he added. Drivers always took bedding with them in case they had to sleep en route.

The rains have eased over the past week but flooding continues to cut land access to the Koukou Angarana region in the southeast and has forced locals and IDPs to head for higher ground. Goz Amir, one of 12 UNHCR-run camps housing some 230,000 Sudanese refugees fleeing the conflict in Darfur, is in the flooded area. There are also 170,000 Chadian IDPs in the area.

“UNHCR and its partners are helping several hundred displaced families and host communities who have been affected by the rains and sought shelter on higher ground,” said Bryan Hunter, UNHCR protection officer in Goz Beida. UNHCR staff have been forced to rent carts from locals so that they can help those uprooted by the floods, he added.

Since the rains began in mid-June, flooded wadis have made it almost impossible to drive between the UNHCR logistics hub at Abeche, the main town in eastern Chad, and Farchana, the gateway to several refugee camps near the border with Sudan’s Darfur region, with the floods cutting off some of the camps.

Exposure to the elements is causing physical discomfort and putting added logistical and financial pressure on aid agencies. “With most shelters in camps being in a poor state, the number of people asking for new tents grows during and after the rainy season,” said Julien Sangtam, a UNHCR community services assistant in the town of Bahai. “Their concerns are real and justified, but we can’t satisfy them because of logistical problems.”

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