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Humanitarian crises and sustainability sanitation: lessons from Eastern Chad
Anne Delmaire and Julie Patinet

How important is sanitation during a humanitarian crisis? Why is it important to explore ecological and sustainable sanitation? This article looks at the case of Eastern Chad, an example of a major long-term crisis. From an acute emergency in 2003, the crisis has gone through a number of phases. The appropriateness of aid mechanisms is currently being questioned, with a particular focus on sanitation. Sustainable sanitation can help to improve the quality of life of refugees and IDPs as well as local populations. From this perspective, what lessons from Eastern Chad could be useful in other contexts?

 Eastern Chad: Focus on sanitation in a long-term humanitarian crisis context.

The arrival of large numbers of refugees and IDPs in Eastern Chad from 2003 [1] led to the mobilisation of the international community to provide essential services to the affected population in refugee camps and IDP sites. In terms of sanitation, the humanitarian intervention was limited to digging latrines which remained of an insufficient number in relation to needs. The very poor coverage of sanitation needs was caused both by constraints, such as the lack of space available and the unstable or floodable land which caused pits to collapse, and the fact that sanitation was not seen as a priority by humanitarian actors. In addition, for a long time, the Chadian communities living near the camps remained outside international aid circuits, despite the fact that their living conditions and their needs were similar to those of the people who had been displaced by the conflict.

After a few years of operations consisting essentially of the provision of assistance to affected communities, the aid sector then found itself faced with a long-term crisis which affected Eastern Chad in a heterogeneous manner: the priority became the promotion of self-reliance within camp communities and projects targeting the local population also began to be developed.

The current context is one in which it is forecasted that the Sudanese refugees in camps in the East will be there for a protracted stay and in which there has been a re-organisation of the territory (amounting to the urbanization of Eastern Chad) due to the movements of IDPs (return, re-settlement or sedentarisation in former sites).

Recently Chad experienced one of the most serious outbreaks of cholera in the last fifteen years [2], the consequence, amongst other things, of the very poor access to sanitation that exists in the country [3]. There are therefore several factors which show that there is a need to find alternative forms of sanitation in Eastern Chad.


[1] 250 000 refugees and 180 000 IDPs according to estimates by ReliefWeb in 2008.

[2] 17 000 cases, 450 deaths in 2011 according to MSF.

[3] The proportion of Chadians who had access to improved sanitation in 2002 was 30% in cities and 0% in rural areas (source: page on Chad on the World Health Organisation web site)