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Water supplies run dry in desert refugee camps

[Chad] Sudanese refugee women from Darfur wait for water at Toloum refugee camp in eastern Chad.
Water supplies continue to pose problems in the refugee camps (Liliane Bitong Ambassa/IRIN)

Two out of eleven refugee camps in arid eastern Chad, where 200,000 people eke out a precarious existence after fleeing conflict in nearby Sudan, are fast running out of water and no lasting solution has yet been found, health workers warned on Tuesday.

The most seriously affected camps are Am Nabak and Toulom, some of the northern most camps of eleven that snake south along Sudan's 700 kilometre border, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

The Am Nabak site, which hosts 16,000 Sudanese refugees who spontaneously moved from the border, does not have its own water supply and was never suitable for the establishment of a camp, according to UNHCR.

Water has to be pumped out of wells in the town of Iriba and then trucked 40 kilometres through the desert to the camp.

"This is nothing new, but as we are three quarters of the way into the dry season, water problems are more acute as underground reservoirs are drying up," Jean-Marie Garelli, the UNHCR's Chief technical coordinator in eastern Chad told IRIN from their base in Abeche.

Refugees have been living 'temporarily' in Am Nabak for a year and a long-term solution for water provision has yet to be found.

With water tables in Iriba dangerously low, the quantities trucked to Am Nabak have had to be drastically reduced, said Oxfam's Cedric Fedida.

"The water supply in Am Nabak refugee camp has gone down to five litres per person per day. This is very low as the standard is 15 litres per person per day," Fedida said.

Fedida explained that the sanitary implications were very worrying as in Chad's hot desert climate where one could easily drink four litres of water a day just to stay hydrated, leaving only one litre a day for cooking, cleaning and other necessities.

At nearby Touloum refugee camp, water supplies are also dwindling.

There boreholes serving 20,000 refugees are not able to keep up with demand, and refugees have been receiving on average 9 to 12 litres of water per person per day, Garelli explained.

In the Am Nabak and Touloum sites, technicians are struggling to find alternative supplies.

According to Garelli, UNHCR has identified a site in Moudre, 20 kilometres from Am Nabak, which will improve the camp's water supply. Drilling of boreholes will start next week, he said.

Around Touloum too, UNHCR will dig three additional boreholes that should allow for the improvement of refugees' water supplies, Garelli said.

On 1 May, UNHCR will open a twelfth refugee camp in the Gagar site, near the central eastern town of Adre, to ease congestion in the overcrowded Breidjing and Farchana camps in the same region.

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

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