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Oxfam: Continued violence in eastern Chad

Oxfam: Continued violence in eastern Chad could slash water rations for refugees

Newly displaced say violence is worst in living memory

Emergency water supplies in eastern Chad are overstretched and may not be able to meet the needs of thousands of people fleeing fighting in the area, international agency Oxfam International warned today.

Oxfam may have to cut the daily rations allotted to the tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees living in camps in southeastern Chad, which currently adhere to international standards of 15 litres per person per day.

Hundreds of displaced Chadians have been arriving daily to safe areas near the refugee camps following a week of attacks on villages that has left dozens of casualties.

A state of emergency was imposed in eastern Chad this week after ethnic attacks on more than ten villages in the area bordering Sudan's western Darfur region. Heavily armed attackers on horse- and camel-back have razed entire villages to the ground, further fueling the tensions in the restive area on both sides of the border.

"Our biggest concern is that our pumping station in Goz Beida, where many displaced people are arriving, is already working at full capacity to provide 350,000 litres of water to the camp and the community every day. If more people arrive, we may find it difficult to help them," said Roland Van Hauwermeiren, the head of Oxfam's operations in eastern Chad, after a visit Tuesday to the southeastern town, where more than 4,000 Chadians have arrived since last week.

"Our pumps and generators are working at full capacity to fulfill existing needs, but if there is no more water in the ground, there is nothing we can do. As we cannot deprive these new arrivals of water, we will have to find other solutions, such as reducing the water available every day or trucking in water, until the security situation stabilizes and people are comfortable going home," added Van Hauwermeiren.

Daily water rations could be reduced by 1.5 litres, as much as is contained in a bottle of mineral water, leaving people without the water they need for cooking, bathing and drinking.

Bringing water to this arid and remote part of the world is a key challenge to the humanitarian workers supporting the more than 218,000 refugees from the Darfur region over the last three years.

Trucking in water and installing temporary plastic tanks are two short-term solutions Oxfam will implement should the situation continue to deteriorate. Cutting water rations to the camps by one or two litres per person per day is another way to stretch the limited supplies. But such cuts are not sustainable over the long term.

"People have fled their homes even without coming under attack, which shows how tense the situation really is and how important it is for security to stabilize. Many have arrived with nothing, and are camping under trees in a state of shock," said Van Hauwermeiren.

"People I have spoken with say that in all of their years, they cannot remember things being this bad, with such hatred and destruction choking them out of their homes," said Van Hauwermeiren. "Everyone wants to go home to their crops and to their regular lives but are too afraid to even consider it. The feelings of desperation among the people are overwhelming."

Oxfam calls on all actors engaged in efforts to bring peace to Chad and Darfur to work more effectively together and exert greater influence on the parties to the conflict to immediately halt the attacks on civilians so as to prevent an already volatile situation from deteriorating further.

Oxfam supports the call by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to ensure the protection of refugees and displaced people and reduce the threat of cross-border attacks.

Oxfam also encourages all actors to adopt a coherent, coordinated approach to the challenges of peace and conflict resolution in the restive central African region.

ENDS

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