Admittedly, when we learned that we were being sent to Chad, we also had to look on a map to see exactly where it is. Thanks only to previous MSF exposure, we knew it was in northern Africa, Muslim, French-speaking, hot, and has had difficulties finding qualified local staff. According to my atlas, there is 100km of paved roads and according to my job description, it is likely the least infrastructured country in the world. The French built only one high school in the entire country throughout their colonial reign, and apparently not much has been done since.
With a little more research, we learned that Chad ranks 175 out of 182 countries on the UNDP Human Development Index. This corresponds to:
- a life expectancy of 48.6 years,
- an adult literacy rate of 31.8%,
- a school enrollment rate of 36.5%,
- 37% of children < 5yrs are underweight
- 48% of the population does not use an improved water source
- a GDP of $1447/person.
Eeek! That sounds pretty grim. But MSF does not just go to places with dismal development statistics. There must be something more to constitute a humanitarian intervention.
The most obvious humanitarian driver in Chad stems from the conflict in Sudan, which has resulted in approximately 240,000 refugees from Darfur landing in camps on the Chadian side of the border. Exacerbating this situation is the mutual accusation by both Sudan and Chad that each is harbouring and supporting rebel groups aimed at ousting their respective governments. And of course the corresponding rebel activity that each denies.
A coup d’état was attempted in 2006 and 2008, with further rebel attacks in 2009. Not to mention on-going inter-ethnic squabbles, made worse by extreme poverty and a high level of militarization. In addition to the refugee population, this civil violence has subsequently produced close to 200,000 internally displaced Chadians. This all makes for a very unstable border region. No friendly border control officer giving you a deal on the duty tax for all the cheap wine you bring back into Canada from the US!
Figure 1. Sparse Chadian landscape where military, rebels, villagers, nomads, refugees, internally displaced persons and international NGOs all eventually cross paths.
So, MSF-Holland arrived in eastern Chad in 2003, to assist refugees fleeing Darfur. The focus shifted to remote settlements of internally displaced people as refugee camps became more established and were handed over to other organizations. Throughout this work, the greatest threat to humanitarian organizations is banditry, including robberies, car-jackings, and several incidences of kidnapping. Unfortunately, running a rebel operation requires much of the same logistical equipment as most NGOs use, making us pretty juicy targets.
This insecurity led many organizations to pull out of the area completely. MSF has also severely reduced its operations in the most precarious regions, and adapted security measures in all of its projects. We now drive piddley little Suzuki Jimnies – painted bright pink – to deter car-jackings! So much for the brawny white Land Cruisers that fearlessly go where no humanitarian worker has gone before!
While forced to withdraw partially from the eastern border area, MSF-H has subsequently been ramping up elsewhere. The Chad portfolio now includes emergency nutrition projects and cholera interventions, wherever they may be, as well as a lovely secondary health care facility, which Grant and I happily now call home.