Developments in Chad and Darfur

No two situations are the same. The effect of the climate, the security, the local authorities, media interests - it is always a mix of approaches. We have to adapt to these different situations. We constantly need to be flexible.

What lessons have we learnt from the Dafur/Chad situation?
Chad refugees started to cross the border into Darfur. The flow was initially low and this was not high profile. The responses of the community to the first 2000 people was slow and perhaps inadequate. People were soon coming into an inhospitable terrain with few resources which caused a major overload. Soon there were 12 camps across two provinces. Some of the camps were set up spontaneously and then evolved. People were supported and then formal camps were set up in agreement with the local authorities. Some camps were in viable locations although not self sustaining. People will probably remain there for 3-10 years. Some other locations are unviable because of protection issues or lack of water. Some of those camps were overloaded. There were such large numbers of people that dispersal programmes were initiated. Many refugees have been there for over a year and a half. At least two camps are totally unviable. Around a year ago one camp with 4,000 people was shown by geophysical tests to be unworkable. There are now 40,000 people on that site and there is still no solution in sight. Water is now trucked through sand from the nearest town 41km away. Less than 7 litres per person per day. Wells are drying up so the population of the town are getting quite upset.

Could we have done better? Could we have had more impact on spontaneous site selection and planning when the situation was so fluid? Where do we go from here? What are the facts and lets also hear some opinion.

It is dangerous to speak about Chad because it is not one country. There is a different situation between the North, the centre and the South. We have to take environmental constraints into account. The lake is dropping due to climatic change. There is desertification. Maybe we are too focussed on the human situation. We must look for solutions but we cannot fly in water. Scientists should take responsibility but there is a limit to what we can do. We have been doing all we can but in the North it is an impossible region. The whole area is a big block of granite which is the worst environment to find water. There is water in other places but there are political reasons why they cannot go there. It is not fair on the local population to take their water. There is the possibility to artificially recharge the aquifers but we must convince the goverment that the investment is worth it for the development of the area.

In a brief discussion this morning we discussed that we are just the people who pick up the pieces afterwards. The best thing that could have happened was that they did not come across the border. The situation should not have happened. All our expertise cannot change what should not have happened.

This situation has been one of low level conflict for the last 10 years. Our leaders did not care. Such International low level conflicts should be addressed much sooner. Who is going to pay for it? The African Union? There are so many situations that could explode in the same way. Can we do any thing about it and how?

The issues where we could have an impact are more in the middle. Around El Janine the very narrow thinking in terms of settlement was very bitty. In September the opportunity to think outside the box was not happening. 40% were being hosted but neither OCHA nor UNDAC were prepared to support hosting because they said they did not want to encourage people to stay. How do we bring in the different actors who have different mandates? How do we move on the strategic issues? How do we follow up on it? Looking at some of the stategic settlement issues is where we are not engaging enough.

A couple of points that became apparent was that there was a gap in shelter. The NGOs were dependent on resources from the natural environment for shelter. Hospitals were being built out of grass which is a fire hazard. There was a lack of thinking about the resources they were using. They already had a shortage of natural resources even before so many people started migrating to urban areas. This is a classic source of conflict between the relief organisations, the displaced and the local population. The NGOs were seemingly unaware of these links and were contributing to the conflict. Thorn bushes were used instead of razor wire at water collection points. UNHCR had been operating in this area for many years but the information they had put together about working in this kind of environment was not being used. There was no one following up on environmental issues.
Q. What is actually preventing relocation of the camps in the north?
A. The primary ethnic group in the northern axis are similar ethnic groups to the host population. Likewise in the central axis there are close tribal bonds. That is one of the factors. There have been quite significant massacres across that northern border. We could not therefore move people into more viable areas. There are also factors that we do not understand. The refugees themselves do not want to move from that location even after months of discussion. For the agencies working there it is a no-win situation. The governments were benign at first but their attitude changed towards agencies. They became more hardline. Negotiation for new sites or even investigation is taking months. One new site took 3 months to negotiate with the authorities to carry out some geophysics.  If we had manipulated perhaps we could have achieved a site on that location.
Q. The humanitarian community is weak and attacked from all sides. Maybe we should go back to the humanitarian charter. We have to avoid political discussions if we want to remain impartial. We have to fight for people with the biggest needs but that may be the local population rather than the refugees. We have to keep the global picture. Principles are something important that we should try to keep alive.
Q. The guidelines do suggest that host families should be supported as they were with the host families to begin with. We need to change the rules and look at different options of engagement. Maybe achieving something developmental along the way
A. There are a number of lessons that we need to learn but some of them are bound to get filed in the dusty filing cabinet. It is important that we keep the ongoing situations higher in our minds. It is the case that the tsunami has created a drain on resources and especially human resources. This has a significant impact on timeliness and appropriateness of delivery. There are also other places such as Angola that have not been mentioned over the last two days that need attention.