January 17, 2023

Humanitarian crisis deepens as Chad floods, threaten disease outbreaks

People affected by floods in Chad are using canoes as means of transport to be able to access certain areas severely affected by the floods. November 2022. © ALEXIS BALEKAGE/MSF

Major floods have hit central and southern Chad since mid-August, with the latest floods affecting the capital, N’Djamena, where rivers have burst their banks and whole neighbourhoods have been left underwater.

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.”

A recent dramatic rise in the water levels of the Chari and Logone rivers – which reached 8.14 metres high near their confluence in N’Djamena and saw both rivers bursting their banks – is attributed to unusually heavy rainfall in the south of the country.

As of 15 November, more than 155,000 people in N’Djamena have been displaced from by their homes by the floods, according to the UN. 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.

“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 infrastructure 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 continuation of treatment.

Our 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, our teams are providing water and sanitation services.

For the past few weeks, we have carried out more than 15,500 consultations, mainly for malaria, respiratory tract infections and diarrhoea. We have also transferred at least 80 patients to hospitals for specialist care and vaccinated 345 babies against common childhood diseases. Our teams have also provided clean drinking water and essential relief items, including hygiene kits and malaria prevention kits, to displaced families.

Since the start of 2022, Chad has witnessed extreme weather conditions related to the climate emergency, which have caused severe droughts and erratic rainfall, affecting more than one million people across 18 of the country’s 23 regions, according to local health authorities.

“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.”

MSF has been working in Chad since 1981 and currently runs medical projects in several regions of the country in support of local health authorities.

We provide healthcare for women and children in hospitals, health centres and through community-based activities, run nutritional programmes for women and children and provide treatment for acutely malnourished children. In the town of Adré, in Ouaddaï we provide healthcare for children under 15 and are responding to the needs of refugees. In southeast Chad, our teams run inpatient therapeutic feeding centres (ITFC). In N’Djamena, we have an emergency response unit ready to respond quickly to the consequences of conflict, natural disasters and disease outbreaks across the country.

Source: Doctors Without Borders