Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has launched an emergency response to address the most acute needs of people left with minimal access to basic services and exposed to heightened risks of infectious disease outbreaks following months of flooding in Chad.
Major floods have affected central and southern Chad since mid-August. More recently floods have affected the capital, N’Djamena, where rivers have burst their banks and whole neighbourhoods have been left underwater.
According to the UN, more than 155,000 people in N’Djamena have been displaced from their homes by the floods.
People are sheltering in various official and unofficial displacement sites, putting them further from essential services and increasing their vulnerability to serious health risks, particularly during the current seasonal peak of malaria.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has launched an emergency response to address the most acute needs of people left with minimal access to basic services and exposed to heightened risks of infectious disease outbreaks.
“These latest floods have exacerbated an already dire humanitarian situation,” says Alexis Balekage, MSF’s emergency response project coordinator in N’Djamena.
“Chad experiences floods every year, yet the scale of the phenomenon this year is far more significant. It has led to large-scale displacement and immense needs that greatly outweigh the current response, in a country that continues to be almost invisible in terms of international attention.”
“The displaced people are living in precarious and sometimes overcrowded conditions, with poor access to clean water, food and proper hygiene,” says Balekage.
“Pools of stagnant water risk becoming the breeding sites for mosquitoes, which will likely increase the transmission of malaria, a leading cause of child mortality in Chad. We are also concerned about the possible emergence and spread of other infectious and waterborne diseases if water levels do not recede quickly and humanitarian operations are not scaled up to meet people’s needs,” he says.
Houses, schools, health facilities and marketplaces have been completely submerged in water for weeks. People are using canoes to access some flooded neighbourhoods, exposing them to the risk of potentially lethal attacks by hippopotamuses. In one week alone, five people, including a pregnant woman, have reportedly lost their lives due to hippopotamus attacks.
The floods have also submerged vital infrastructures such as roads and water networks, and have severely impacted the livelihoods of people dependent on farming. More than 465,000 hectares of crops have been damaged and 19,000 heads of livestock destroyed, raising concerns over agricultural production and food insecurity.
“Our one hectare of rice was engulfed by water and I am currently jobless,” says Doglessa, who is sheltering in Walia Hadjarai displacement site in N’Djamena. “Because of the floods, we are unable to reach a health centre quickly and see a doctor. We would need to pay to see a doctor and it is difficult without any income. My biggest wish is for the waters to go down quickly so that we can return home,” she says.
In Toukra, south of the capital, an MSF-supported health centre was completely inundated, forcing staff to relocate to another health centre and transfer patients there for the continuation of treatment.
MSF teams, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, are running mobile clinics in displacement sites and supporting existing health centres where people have sought shelter, including Toukra, Ngueli, Guilmey, Melezi, Digangali, Karkanjeri, Miskine, Walia-Hadjarai and Walia-Lycee camps. As well as basic healthcare, nutritional support and vaccinations, teams are providing water and sanitation services.
For the past few weeks, the teams have carried out more than 15,500 consultations, mainly for malaria, respiratory tract infections and diarrhoea. At least 80 patients have been transferred to hospitals for specialist care and 345 babies have been vaccinated against common childhood diseases. Teams have also provided clean drinking water and essential relief items, including hygiene kits and malaria prevention kits, to displaced families.
“Looking at the situation in N’Djamena we anticipate that the drastic consequences of the flooding will persist for weeks to come,” says Sami Al Subaihi, MSF head of mission in Chad.
“While water levels are slowly receding, there are no indicators that the situation will improve anytime soon or that people will be able to return to their homes,” he says.
“Our emergency response is aimed at meeting people’s direct needs, but there is an urgent need to mobilise additional funding and long-term programming to allow for a sustained and proportionate response to this crisis.”