The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR has warned that a large refugee camp in eastern Chad is fast running out of water, and that chronic water shortages in the arid region are hampering the establishment of new camps to house 200,000 people who have fled the conflict in nearby Darfur.
Eduardo Cue, the UNHCR spokesman in eastern Chad said on Tuesday that a rapid fall in the water table at Iridimi refugee camp meant that the boreholes serving its 15,000 inhabitants were no longer able to keep up with demand. As a result, the daily water ration issued to each refugee had been cut back sharply to preserve supplies.
“In Iridimi, the standard of 15 litres per refugee per day is not being met, and we were told that it has gone down to six litres, maybe 10 litres,” he told IRIN by telephone from Abeche, the main centre for relief operations in eastern Chad.
“There is a high chance that the water there will not last for long,” he warned.
Iridimi is one of the 11 overcrowded official camps in eastern Chad hosting refugees who have fled the two-year-old conflict in Sudan’s western Darfur region.
Cue said the desert nature of the terrain, poor rainfall during the rainy season just ended and a lack of reservoirs to capture and store rainwater had contributed to persistent water shortages since the first refugee camps were established in eastern Chad in January.
Vincent Dupin, the Coordinator of the Norwegian Church Aid Programme in Chad, which is in charge of water and sanitation at Iridimi, confirmed the severe water shortage in the camp.
But he pointed out that Iridimi, like many of the 11 refugee camps in eastern Chad, was hosting twice the number of people which it was designed to accommodate.
“It seems we are demanding too much from the underground water in Iridimi, since we have lost 30% of the capacity that was there four months ago,” he told IRIN. “If we continue at this rate of exploitation, there will be a day when ground-water will dry up.”
Dupin said Norwegian Church Aid was trying to alleviate the water shortage by trucking supplies in from the nearby Touloum refugee camp, where it also manages water and sanitation and where underground water supplies are still abundant.
He and Cue both denied a report by UNHCR headquarters in Geneva that Touloum, which houses 15,000 refugees, could face a water crisis of its own in the near future.
However Cue acknowledged that water scarcity was a general problem in eastern Chad and was hindering efforts to find suitable sites for new refugee camps.
He cited the case of Mader, where satellite pictures indicated there should be enough water, but where actual drilling showed very little was available.
UNHCR had planned to establish a new camp there to house 11,000 refugees who are currently crowded into a spontaneous settlement with no water supply of its own at Am Nabak, but the site had to be abandoned, Dupin said.
“We are looking into the possibility of finding more water in new sites, we have started trucking water into some of the camps, and we are looking into the possibility of moving refugees from Iridimi to Toloum and other camps,” Cue said.
He warned that UNHCR was also bracing itself for the possible influx of several thousand more refugees from western Sudan in the near future.
Cue said there had been no major influx of Sudanese refugees to eastern Chad since June, when this year's rainy season began.
He explained that the rains had cut roads and created temporary rivers and lakes which made it harder for people to move.
At the same time, the Sudanese government's security forces and the pro-government Janjawid militias in Darfur had been trying to prevent civilians from leaving the country and government radio stations had been warning that no assistance was available on the Chadian side of the border, he added.
With the rainy season now coming to an end and people in Darfur now aware that aid for refugees was available in Chad, there could well be a fresh influx in the near future, he added.
“The number of refugees crossing into Chad has been negligible for the last three months, but we do not know what the future will hold,” Cue said.
Diplomats fear the onset of the dry season and scant progress in peace talks under way in the Nigerian capital Abuja could lead to an upsurge in fighting in Darfur which would push more harassed and frightened civilians over the border.
The United Nations estimated last week that two million people needed humanitarian assistance in Darfur, of whom 1.6 million had been internally displaced as a result of attacks on their villages.
The arid territory, which is the size of France, has a total population of six million.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions