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A forgotten crisis

Dennis Curry has been working for Concern in Chad for two months. Here he gives an account of the situation on the ground in this troubled country.

Dennis Curry has been working for Concern in Chad for two months. Here he gives an account of the situation on the ground in this troubled country.

What was my first impression of Chad? “A forgotten country” as was noted elsewhere on this site, but also a forgotten crisis. I had spent the last two years working in nearby Darfur and certainly the humanitarian response here is smaller than the one just across the border in neighbouring Sudan. However, on visiting the camps one can see that the needs of these displaced people are of the same scale and individually the hardships faced by these families deserve as much attention.

The environment is as harsh as Darfur and the displaced people here have arrived with few of their modest possessions. They have to set up a shelter for their families in a site that can face many environmental challenges in any one year; searing heat, flash flooding and winter’s extremely cold night-time temperatures. However, providing shelter, healthcare, food and water doesn’t address the root causes of these people’s displacement. Finding longer term solutions to the insecurity that drove them to leave their homes will be the bigger challenge.

Until now however, Concern and the other agencies working here have concentrated on ensuring that the conditions in the camps are as good as can be attained with the limited resources available. Concern has come a long way in establishing itself as a focal point for coordinating humanitarian activities in the camps. This often overlooked role is crucial to ensure that humanitarian assistance is well managed. With numerous agencies working in the camp, it is important that different organisations do not duplicate each other’s work. It is even more important that large gaps do not develop, if it happens that some areas or groups are not receiving essential assistance.

Another critical element of the role is to help the displaced people represent themselves to both the international community and any local authorities. As such, Concern helps committees in each camp to organise meetings, discuss issues, and represent groups and their concerns. These committees include groups of women, youth and elderly. There are also committees focusing on certain sectors such as healthcare and water provision. Another set of recently established committees consist of representatives of both the displaced people and the local host community. Dialogue between these two groups is crucial as it is often overlooked that the arrival of large numbers of people in an area can have an effect on the sharing of limited local resources.

Recently it was very satisfying to see this committee represent their own issues to a visiting Irish delegation which included the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, and representatives of Irish Aid. Though Concern had facilitated the visit to the site, and the meeting was held in our site office, it was left to the committee themselves to present a picture of life in the camp and the issues that prevent them from returning to their homes.

Concern also recently distributed blankets in all four sites around Goz Beida. This ended up being more challenging than might have been first thought. An up-to-date list of people living on site was not available. We had initially planned to distribute a different number of blankets to each household based on family size. This is both fairer and better for longer term planning. If families receive the same amount, irrespective of family size, larger households may be motivated to split and register as two separate families. However without a proper list with details of family size, this was not possible. In the days running up to the distribution there were also some worries over security in the area, which further disrupted plans.

During this time it was reported that cases of respiratory problems associated with cold weather, particularly in the young children, were rising. Thinking of the meagre shelter that people use in the camps, made from grass and local materials, this further increased the urgency of getting the blankets distributed.

With great credit to the team on the ground, managed by our senior Chadian staff, all families in each site received two blankets each. In the end, though we didn’t use an ideal methodology, the blankets got from our store to the sites and should go some way to protecting some vulnerable people from the harsh night-time conditions. 

Aside from this role, Concern is seeking to be as active as possible and in 2008 will look at longer term ways of supporting both the displaced and the local population. We plan to look at people’s livelihoods and try to identify ways in which we can help people increase their income in a sustainable way. Looking ahead, it should be an interesting, challenging and busy year.