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Chad: Urgent humanitarian aid may be delayed

Urgent humanitarian aid may be delayed by new violence in eastern Chad:

Thousands of families are fleeing their homes due to mounting violence in eastern Chad, requiring immediate humanitarian assistance that may be compromised by deteriorating security, warned Oxfam International today.

More than ten villages in the southeastern border area next to Sudan's troubled western Darfur region have come under attack in the last several days, forcing the hurried evacuation of men, women and children.

Frightened families told of well-armed men on horseback storming their villages, stealing their possessions and scorching their crops. There were dozens of injuries, and dozens of deaths, most of them from gunshot wounds.

"Things are very, very desperate and are only likely to get worse. People are suffering; they are drinking dirty water and have nothing to eat," said Roland Van Hauwermeiren, the leader of Oxfam's humanitarian operations in eastern Chad, after a visit Thursday to some of the burned villages and conversations with new arrivals to the overflowing convergence sites in the southeast town of Koukou.

"We are mostly seeing women and children, who tell us that there are still people hiding in the bush, waiting until they can come," he said.

The string of attacks is the latest incident marking the rapid decline of security in eastern Chad, due both to the deteriorating situation in Darfur and homegrown struggles for power.

Clusters of displaced people have converged on the only safe places in the region -- the refugee camps where humanitarian agencies provide food, water and medicine to more than 218,000 Sudanese refugees, as well as water to the surrounding communities.

As their numbers increase so does the pressure on limited supplies of water, food and medicines. "Where last month Habile was home to 800 newly arrived families, there were nearly 4,000 more on Friday morning," said Van Hauwermeiren, who watched a woman give birth, unattended, on a patch of dirt during his visit to Habile on Thursday.

"Families are living without water, without sanitation and in desperate need of health care," said Van Hauwermeiren.

As part of an interagency emergency operation, Oxfam has begun setting up mobile water pumps. Emergency tapstands, pumps and pipes will be erected in coming days and plans are in place for installing an emergency tank that can store 95 cubic meters of water: two days' supply for 5,000 people.

Humanitarian workers travelling on the road from Goz Beida report that hundreds of people are travelling there on foot, carrying only the bare essentials they were able to salvage from their burned and looted villages.

"A lot of people are on the move, and they are not sure where they are going to go," said Van Hauwermeiren. "What they are sure of is that they will not be going home because it is just not safe."

Oxfam is calling on the Chadian authorities to move quickly and stabilise a situation that threatens to veer dangerously out of control and provoke further suffering within the civilian population.

"It is critical that humanitarian workers are able to reach the displaced populations in the areas near Goz Amir refugee camp in eastern Chad," said Van Hauwermeiren.

"Our biggest challenge right now is security, and it's only going to get worse, from what we are hearing from the populations. If we start moving stocks and equipment to the field and we are compromised by insecurity, and stuck in the middle of the road, we won't be able to help anybody."


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