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Humanitarian disaster worsens in Chad

Media Release

For immediate release - Thursday 14 July 2004

Humanitarian disaster worsens in Chad as rain hampers aid effort

International aid agency Oxfam today said that a humanitarian disaster is unfolding in Chad with conditions rapidly deteriorating in the refugee camps following heavy rains. Thousands of people have taken refuge in Chad from neighbouring Darfur, Western Sudan. The warning comes as the African Union prepare to hold peace talks on Darfur in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia today.

Two thousand refugees are arriving in the Breidjing refugee camp, which lies 60 kilometres from the Sudan border, every week. This camp was designed to host 12,000 people but is already overwhelmed by 32,000 people, many of whom still don’t have tents. Those without shelter are exposed to the rains and cold nights and with only 5 wells and 60 toilets in the camp, the threat of cholera, malaria and other diseases is now rife. Oxfam staff are working flat out to get a water and sanitation system set up to address the needs of the refugees.

John Howard, Oxfam’s water engineer working in Breidjing Camp said:
“The spectre of disease is starting to rise and there is now a very real threat of a cholera outbreak. It is ironic but the rainstorms are making the water situation even worse with wells polluted with dead animals and human waste. Families without shelter are huddling together and covering their children with rice sacks from the rain, it is absolutely horrific.”

With the UN warning that the refugees coming into Chad could increase dramatically, Oxfam calls on the international community to put renewed energy into resolving the crisis in Darfur and to respond with immediate aid for Chad.

Oxfam New Zealand Executive Director, Barry Coates, added:
“With only a third of the aid needed for Chad pledged, the international community has failed to respond quickly enough to this crisis. Oxfam is grateful for the support of members of the public in New Zealand who have responded generously, but far more is needed to keep people alive through the worst of this crisis. Oxfam is calling on the New Zealand government to increase its contribution and build support in the UN for urgent action.”

Oxfam has launched a public appeal for people inside Darfur and for refugees in Chad. Members of the public who would like to make a donation can call 0800 600 700 or donate online at .

Quotes from the field:

- John Howard, Oxfam water engineer in Breidjing Camp:

“Briedjing is a disaster waiting to happen. We’re racing against time to try to prevent a major outbreak of disease. There are only five wells for the whole camp all highly contaminated – and 63 latrines.
“It’s ironic that the rain makes it harder for people here to get clean water to drink. The ground is covered with human and animal waste and the rotting carcasses of donkeys, cows and goats. The rains are washing waste into the water sources, causing diarrhoea and increasing the risk of cholera outbreak dramatically. Colleagues working in clinics report children are dying daily.”

- The Oxfam team in Breidjing Camp are working in arduous conditions, not much different from the refugees, squeezed together in a tarpaulin shelter with minimum facilities. They are working flat out to get a water system set up, pumping water from existing sources into tanks where it can be purified. Jane Bean, a very experienced and feisty Australian health advisor working on malaria prevention projects has described Breidjing Camp as “shocking, a horrible place”.

Notes for editors

- Experienced aid workers from Oxfam and other agencies say Eastern Chad presents some of the most challenging operating conditions of any crisis they have dealt with. It is an extremely remote terrain and the rains are multiplying the logistical problems, flooding dry river beds making roads impassable.

- There are now almost 200,000 Sudanese refugees from Darfur in Eastern Chad and the UN says anything up to another 200,000 could come over the border.

- There are 12 official refugee camps so far and more in planning but the needs outstrip the facilities provided so far. Oxfam is currently working in seven of the camps and is scaling up massively.

- For further information or to arrange an interview with Oxfam Press Officer currently in Chad, Helen Palmer, or with engineer John Howard, please contact Prue Smith on 09 355 6500 or 021 1400 825

© Scoop Media

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