Aid groups on alert after NGO ouster from Darfur

Aid agencies in eastern Chad are bracing for a possible influx of men, women and children from Darfur after the Sudanese government expelled NGOs providing water, food and health care to millions of people.

Sudan on 4 March ordered the expulsion of 13 aid groups from Darfur following the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant for Sudan President Omar el-Bashir.

UN aid agencies and NGOs in eastern Chad are set to meet on 11 March to finalise planning numbers for a potential influx, David Cibonga of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Abéché, eastern Chad, told IRIN.

The scarcity of natural resources like water and wood in eastern Chad already puts a strain on aid agencies, who are assisting a quarter-million Sudanese refugees, some 160,000 displaced Chadians and local populations there.

“[A significant influx] would be a real challenge particularly given the limited natural resources,” Pauline Ballaman, Oxfam Intermon’s emergency manager in Chad, told IRIN. “Water is in short supply in eastern Chad, as is firewood as well as sites to relocate refugees away from the border.”

NGOs with operations in eastern Chad told IRIN they are reviewing contingency stocks and determining possible staff and funding needs.

"If people in West Darfur camps are deprived of essential assistance we cannot rule out the possibility that people will move into eastern Chad," said Philippe Conraud of Action Contre la Faim, which was expelled from Darfur and operates in Chad. "But it is far too early to say [whether this will happen]."

Kurt Tjossem, International Rescue Committee's regional director for the Horn of Africa and East Africa, said the expulsion of relief organisations "decimated" the aid effort in Darfur. "As life-saving services in some camps diminish, people may start searching for assistance elsewhere. Initially families may move relatively short distances to other camps that still have services, but it’s possible that refugees could travel farther and cross borders."

IRC also works in eastern Chad camps, where it would scale up health care and water and sanitation services if need be, Tjossem said.

As of 10 March there were no reports of displaced Sudanese crossing into Chad, aid officials said. But aid workers in Darfur told IRIN once supplies run out in camps people are likely to move.

“There will be little reason for people to stay and they will move to where they can find a better situation,” said one international aid worker who recently worked in camps in West Darfur.

“If you had no food, no water, no health care, what would you do? Without even basic support there will be nothing to stay for,” said the aid worker who requested anonymity.

One displaced person in the Abu Shouk camp in West Darfur told IRIN: “We rely on the aid agencies for food, for water and for when we get sick. If they go, what will happen to us here?”