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UNICEF helps displaced children and families survive in Chad’s desert

© UNICEF Chad/2006/Pittenger
Chadian women and children affected by conflict pump water at borehole in a settlement for displaced people.

By Jasmine Pittenger

GOZ BEIDA, Chad, 6 June 2006 – “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 militia.”

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 conflict-ravaged Darfur region.

But now, more and more Chadians are telling the same story. Since September 2005, nearly 35,000 people in Chad have fled their villages as the conflict in Sudan spilled over the border. At the same time, the security situation in Chad also has been deteriorating.

Clean water key to survival

Fatime says her family walked dozens of kilometres to escape from the militia fighters, 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 Emergency Water and Sanitation Officer Silvia Gaya and her team quickly helped install four water pumps. Within hours, contractors were recruited locally to begin drilling 12 boreholes in villages where displaced people had found refuge.

Over the past three months, these measures have provided at least 15 litres of water a day for each of tens of thousands of Chadians affected by cross-border violence.

© UNICEF Chad/2006/Pittenger
A family of three generations of women at a settlement for displaced people in Gouroukoun, Chad. The settlement is home to nearly 11,000 people who have fled conflict along the Sudan-Chad border.

Getting back on their feet

UNCEF also promotes good hygiene practices among displaced children and their families. Essential items like soap and clean jerry cans are provided. Vaccinations against measles and polio are carried out among children, while 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 deworming 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 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.

UNICEF aid worker hurt

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 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 a month 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 and other UN agencies in Chad have repeatedly called upon the authorities to do more to ensure the safety of Chadian civilians, Sudanese refugees and humanitarian workers.



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