International Medical Corps UK Director of Finance, Foluke Mogaji, recently embarked on a trip to eastern Chad to monitor International Medical Corps’ programs in the region. What she saw was the deep and enduring impact that years of conflict and instability has had on the people of Eastern Chad and Darfur.
As I flew into Abeche in eastern Chad it quickly became clear just what a harsh environment hundreds of thousands of refugees and Internally Displaced People (IDPs) are living in here. There are approximately 240,000 refugees (from Darfur) and 168,000 IDPs in eastern Chad – one of the most resource-poor areas in the world.
Most of the refugees have lost nearly everything—family members, friends, homes, and farms. They are extremely vulnerable to malnutrition, dehydration, and disease. In addition, as a result of the significant and sudden increase in the local population, the Chadian host communities themselves are experiencing an enormous strain on their natural and social resources.
An hour and half’s drive east of Abeche is Gaga camp – Chad’s largest refugee camp and home to nearly 20,000 Sudanese refugees. This was my first visit to an International Medical Corps field site and I was immediately struck by the magnitude of the situation at hand. The camp is enormous and the task of providing health services for everyone in need is a huge undertaking.
International Medical Corps has been operating here since 2007, with approximately 250 employees, including local Community Health Workers (CHWs). A range of services are provided including curative care for the sick and injured, immunizations, other preventive care for children and pregnant women and nutritional assistance to malnourished children and women of child-bearing age. International Medical Corps is also increasing the camp’s health support network by training local health workers and refugees in primary health care, health awareness initiatives, child protection activities and nutrition.
I had heard so much about Azhari Ali, one of the lead CHWs at Gaga Camp and a holder of two Masters degrees. Azhari has been in the camp for over two years, having fled his home in Darfur. His presence here as a conduit between his fellow refugees and International Medical Corps’ services, is clearly invaluable. Indeed, the enthusiasm and commitment of local health workers like Azhari is pivotal to the success of International Medical Corps’ mission.
Three and half hours south of Abeche is the town of Am Dam – surely one the most remote places I have ever been. If there was a road, I couldn’t see it. All I could see was desert – I’m still not sure how the driver knew where he was going!
Around Am Dam itself there are a number of IDP settlements, all lacking the most basic services. International Medical Corps is running 11 mobile clinics, serving nearly 80,000 IDPs with an emphasis on nutrition as malnutrition is extremely high here. International Medical Corps is currently the only NGO working around Am Dam making their presence here all the more critical. Yet the need is so great, I felt that much more still had to be done. I only hope that with International Medical Corps’ work to date, more attention can be drawn to Am Dam and further support will be provided.
Across all of the programmes I visited in eastern Chad, the same thought returned to me. With the repatriation of refugees being unlikely for at least two years, (according to UNHCR), the long-term approach employed by International Medical Corps is not just a worthy ideal, it’s imperative to the health and future of all those displaced by conflict here. International Medical Corps has taken over several health clinics from other NGOs who responded to the initial emergency here but have since left. The needs amongst the affected populations and refugees continue to be and are as great as ever. I’ve always been told about our reputation for building on existing foundations and strengthening the capacity of the local population. I was proud to see this in action for myself and to meet some of the locals working with us to make it happen.