Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Chad: U.N. withdrawal - to rejoice or to regret?

By Jerome Mwanda
Republished courtesy of
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

NAIROBI (IDN) – To rejoice or to regret? That is the question, triggered by the latest news disseminated by the United Nations about the landlocked Republic of Chad in central Africa, which due to its distance from the sea and its largely desert climate, is also referred to as the 'Dead Heart of Africa'.

The reason to rejoice stems from the vote of the Security Council on May 25 to end the UN peacekeeping mission in Chad (and the Central African Republic) by the end of the year, and thus ‘empower’ the country to handle its own affairs in a responsible manner. The military withdrawal was expected to start the same week.

The decision was taken at the behest of the Chad Government – despite concerns that it could impair aid to some 430,000 people.

On the very day the Security Council voted to empower Chad, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned that a lack of funding is threatening its emergency operations in Chad, where two million people are at risk of hunger.

Drought and pest infestation has curtailed food production in the country, with cereal production estimated to have dropped 34 per cent compared to 2008, according to FAO.

The agency’s emergency operations expert, Fatouma Seid, said FAO has only been able to mobilize $2 million of the $11.8 million it requested in November 2009 for agricultural emergency operations in Chad as part of a UN inter-agency appeal.

“It means FAO will only be distributing 360 of the 11,286 tons of seeds we had been planning to issue to farmers for their next harvest,” she said. “We’d aimed to distribute 6,000 tons of animal feed too, but can only manage 413 tons.”

FAO’s Global Information and Early Warning System on food and agriculture said the previous week that the food situation was deeply worrying in parts of the Sahel where more than 10 million people are at risk of hunger.

Chad is bordered by Libya to the north, Sudan to the east, the Central African Republic to the south, Cameroon and Nigeria to the southwest, and Niger to the west.

A death rate of about 31 per cent for cattle was reported in 2009 in western and central areas of Chad while significant livestock deaths were occurring in some parts of Mali.

The situation is particularly serious in neighbouring Niger, where some 2.7 million people will need food aid this year while an additional 5.1 million people in the country were considered at risk of food insecurity.

FAO has raised about $14.5 million for Niger, where emergency relief operations include Government sales of subsidized cereals, comprehensive feeding by UNICEF and World Food Programme (WFP), and the distribution of animal feed, seeds and fertilizer by FAO.

“Donors are afraid of a repetition of the 2005 food crisis in Niger, when many people starved to death,” Seid stated.

“In comparison, there’s less awareness of what’s happening in Chad, although the situation there is just as critical,” she added.

UN relief chief John Holmes was in the country wrapping up his assessment of the current challenges in Chad, including food security and malnutrition. He visited three nutritional centres in western Chad and interviewed mothers and children on their living conditions and causes of malnutrition.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says that 102,000 severely malnourished children in Chad will need life-saving treatment 2010. Malnutrition is the underlying cause for half of the deaths among children under five in the country.

In January, the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) allocated $3.8 for rapid response to the food and nutrition crisis. The humanitarian appeal for Chad is expected to be revised in June and indicate the overall requirement for the response to the crisis.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), some $3.7 billion – or 36 per cent of the overall requirement of $10 billion – has been contributed in response to the 20 consolidated appeals launched for 2010.

These resources meant the humanitarian system could respond to new emergencies – notably in Haiti which amounted to one-third of all appeal funding to date this year – and to continue meeting urgent needs in protracted crises, OCHA’s Elisabeth Byrs told reporters in Geneva.

While grateful for the continued generosity of donors, especially in light of the impact of the global financial crisis on governments’ humanitarian budgets, she stressed the importance of additional contributions given the significant funding shortfalls for a number of appeals.

Of the 20 appeals, 14 are currently funded below 40 per cent of requirements, with some barely reaching 20 per cent – such as those for Yemen, the occupied Palestinian territory, Guatemala and several West Africa appeals, OCHA said.


The UN aid agencies’ concern appeared not to perturb the Government of Chad. Acting on the its request, Security Council ordered in a unanimous resolution that the military component of the UN mission in the CAR and Chad (known as MINURCAT) be reduced from its current 3,300 troops to 2,200 military personnel – 1,900 in Chad and 300 in the CAR – by July 15, 2010.

Withdrawal of the remaining troops will begin on October 15, and all military and civilian personnel are to be withdrawn by December 31, 2010

The resolution was in line with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s recommendations in his latest report, and he welcomed today’s vote, stressing that under the new mandate, Chad assumes full responsibility for protecting civilians as MINURCAT starts withdrawing its military on May 28.

The mission was set up over two years ago amid increasing unrest in eastern Chad, which hosts at least 250,000 refugees from neighbouring Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region and 180,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) driven from their homes by inter-communal unrest. The CAR, particularly in the northeast, has also been troubled by violent unrest.

But with new agreements on border security between Chad and Sudan, and with the Chadian Government stating that MINURCAT was not strong enough to provide complete security, the Government said in February that it felt it was better for Chadian forces to take over.

Earlier in May Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes said he was “extremely worried” about the potential impact of a withdrawal on the civilians that the UN has been trying to help in eastern Chad.

In a statement issued by his spokesperson on May 25, Ban said the new mandate will allow MINURCAT’s civilian component to work with the Government to consolidate gains achieved so far and help it to develop plans for their sustainability after December 31.

In its resolution, the Council stressed that the Government has committed to ensure the security and protection of all refugees and IDPs, facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid, and work towards the voluntary return and secure resettlement of IDPs and the demilitarization of refugee and IDP camps.

During its remaining months, MINURCAT will help support Chadian police forces, primarily the UN-trained Détachement intégré de sécurité (DIS), in taking over security responsibilities, assist in relocating refugee camps that are close to the Chadian-Sudanese border, and liaise with national and regional authorities on banditry and emerging threats to humanitarian activities.

The mission will also assist in resolving local tensions and protecting human rights, with particular attention to sexual and gender-based violence. Moreover, it is authorized, in consultations with the Chadian Government where possible, to respond to imminent threats of violence to civilians in its immediate vicinity.

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