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Displaced in Eastern Chad: Surviving on Handfuls of Millet
February 2, 2007
At least, he could until militia raided his home village of Faride on November 7, 2006. Many of the approximately 1,000 villagers were injured and the village was pillaged and burnt to the ground. Abdulai fled in haste with the other villagers from the attackers, who were armed with machine guns and, according to him, were Arabic-speaking Chadians. So they traveled to nearby Karo. Then the surrounding villages also experienced violence and pillaging, so the people from Faride set off once more. The population of the whole area has by now gathered in an improvised camp near Goz Beïda. Between 8,000 and 10,000 people are currently waiting at the gates of the district capital, hoping to find a minimum of security.
A koro of millet
"We didn't have time to bring grain, clothes, mats, or blankets," says Abdulai. "We have nothing left except two donkeys." They help carry kindling from the area around the camp to the market in Goz Beïda. "The money we get from that is just enough for one koro of millet." Abdulai shows us an empty bowl with a capacity of three kilograms, the contents of which have to feed 13 people every day.
"We see some malnourished children, but no more than is usual in this region," says Dr. Maximilian Gertler. The MSF doctor holds consultations three times a week in the camp along with a mobile medical team. "But the people don't have any energy any more. In combination with other health problems, the number of malnourished children could skyrocket."
Smelly, muddy water
A lack of hygiene and bad living conditions in the camp also hide other potential health risks: there are hardly any latrines and the makeshift huts made from branches and straw hardly protect against the wind, dust, and low night-time temperatures. Dr. Gertler says, "The people are sleeping on the bare ground with no mats or blankets at temperatures of 12 to 15 degrees Celsius. It's no wonder that we are treating more and more people with pneumonia. The likelihood of infections spreading is high because people sleep very close to one another."
Conjunctivitis is neither contagious nor life-threatening infection, and in normal conditions, it is not a serious health problem. "But because of all the dust and the lack of hygiene, I am treating increasingly serious cases every day: babies whose eyes are stuck together and oozing with pus," says Dr. Gertler. "This shows that the people urgently need clean water, soap, mats, blankets, and better shelters."
No security, no harvest
Many organizations specialized in providing water, food, or shelter are struggling with the complex logistics created by the inaccessible area and the lack of security. At the end of January, precisely 11 weeks and 2 days after they fled their home, Abdulai's family finally received its first rations from the UN's World Food Program, which is supposed to be enough for four weeks. Blankets, mats, buckets, and plastic sheeting have also been distributed by MSF to more than 2,200 families in the camp near Goz Beïda.
Most of all, however, Abdulai needs a safe village to return to so that he can tend his fields. If he cannot plant anything in March, he won't be able to harvest anything in the fall and will then have to rely on outside help for another year. But when some of the villagers from Faride returned home at the end of December, seven were shot dead. Attacks are even happening just outside the camp: just a few days ago, Abdulai and two of his children were a few kilometers away from the camp collecting straw when they were shot at. "There were seven riders — four on horseback and three on camels."