UNICEF helps displaced children and families survive in Chad’s unrelenting desert
“They came again and again, taking our things, killing and burning our villages,” says Fatime, a Chadian mother of five. “We had to leave our village near the border of Sudan because of the Janjaweed.”
Tragic as it is, Fatime’s story is all too familiar. It is a story told by hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees who have escaped to Chad from Sudan’s Darfur region.
But now, more and more Chadians are telling the same story. Since early 2006, nearly 35,000 people in Chad have fled their villages as the conflict in Sudan spilled over the border. Fatime says her family walked dozens of kilometres to escape from Janjaweed militia, who are often seen on horseback and attack villages repeatedly.
“Here we have seen no Janjaweed,” says Fatime. “Here, we are safe.” But safety from the militia is only half the battle.
In one of the world’s harshest environments, where the sun pounds relentlessly and sends waves of heat into the cracked sand, safety also means access to food, shelter and protection from killer diseases like malaria. More important, safety means access to clean drinking water.
In mid-March, when word came that large numbers of Chadians had been forced to flee their homes, UNICEF sprang into action to provide water for the displaced.
After participating in a UN joint assessment mission to the affected areas, UNICEF Water and Environmental Sanitation Officer Silvia Gaya and her team quickly helped install four water pumping stations in villages where displaced people had found refuge. Delivery and installation of the materials were completed within three weeks, and contractors to drill 12 more boreholes were recruited locally within hours and completed their work within two weeks.
Over the past four months, these measures have provided at least 15 litres of water a day to over 13,000 Chadians affected by cross-border violence.
UNICEF also promotes good hygiene practices among displaced children and their families. It has built family latrines and provided essential items like soap and clean jerrycans. Vaccinations against measles and polio are carried out among children, while insecticide-treated mosquito nets and blankets are distributed to families.
In addition, UNICEF supplies high-protein biscuits to small children and pregnant and breastfeeding women. Vitamin A and de-worming medicines help boost the children’s immune systems and safeguard them from illnesses.
Fatime’s children and others like them in Chad now have an opportunity to get a quality education as well. UNICEF is helping by transforming hangars into classrooms and training community-based teachers to provide quality schooling – all part of an effort to get children and families affected by conflict in the region back on their feet.
In a telling postscript to the story above, Ms. Gaya, whose initiative was vital to the success of UNICEF’s emergency response, was shot in Abeche, Chad, on 5 May 2006 by a man in a military uniform who stole the car she was driving. She was quickly evacuated to Europe.
Though her condition – previously critical – is now stable, Ms. Gaya remains hospitalized four months later. She is sorely missed by her colleagues, and by displaced families and villagers who ask after her health whenever a UNICEF car pulls into one of the many communities where she has helped build wells.
© UNICEF Chad/Sylvia Gaya