Scores of families recently displaced by flooding in the Chadian capital N’djamena face a daily struggle against local thugs, wild animals, a lack of toilets and night winds that knock down makeshift tents.
The Chad government announced in late October that it would relocate thousands of people hit by flooding when the River Chari burst its banks, but any such move will take time; in the meantime families whose homes crumbled are just getting by - new hardships adding to what were already tough living conditions in their neighbourhood of Walia.
“We are exposed to too many dangers here,” said Obed Langkal, seated with other residents of the tents and makeshift shelters set up on a stretch of land between a main road and the river. “We cannot rest comfortably at all.”
Neighbourhood thugs locally called “colombians” - residents say because of their drug use - are always nearby and regularly threaten people living in the tents and makeshift shelters, displaced families told IRIN.
“Just the other day - in broad daylight - one of these drugged youths was walking around nude, carrying a knife,” Langkal told IRIN. “When he saw a young girl near the tents, he started running after her. Fortunately we were able to grab him. We called the police and they came and arrested him.” Another man said he saw the youth again near the camp days later.
Residents said they had asked local authorities to have at least two policemen permanently posted at the site.
Residents also said women traders do not want to leave their tents for fear of theft during the day; already several families have had their few belongings stolen when they were away. And men said they do not like leaving during the day to find work. “Our wives and children are not safe,” Ousmane Thomas said.
A number of men who had steady work have lost their jobs, including Sabour Kebgue. "You're absent for two or three days and they fire you," he said. "I was trying to save my home and my family - but they don't want to hear it."
One man pointed to a nearby ditch. “Voilà - our toilet, Madame.” People have set up a couple of makeshift latrines in the tent area for urinating - piles of small rocks encircled by plastic mats or scraps of aluminum, but people defecate in the open. This is a concern, say health workers, as cholera has struck many areas of Chad including the capital. Cases have decreased sharply in recent weeks, "but we have to remain vigilant and continue prevention efforts," Salha Issoufou, emergency coordinator with Médecins Sans Frontières-France, told IRIN.
Women here told IRIN they wait till dark to bathe - out in the open along the perimetre of the tent site.
Residents said they had received soap, bleach, blankets and other supplies from Red Cross, Action Against Hunger, Rotary International and other NGOs. But they said many things were lacking: Apart from better security, they needed more tents, more blankets, and containers to store drinking water.
On a positive note, they said, recently a pump was installed nearby; before that, families used the river for drinking water, but now they use the pump.
But most families don't have a way to protect their drinking water, Liliane Remadji said. “In our homes we had covered [clay containers] in which we kept water clean and protected. But those containers broke in the flooding.”
These are families with meagre means who already faced hardship before the floods forced them out of their homes. Manegue Celestine introduced IRIN to her eight-year-old daughter, whose stomach was swollen and arms and legs nothing but skin and bones.
Manegue said the girl had been ill for about seven months. Has she been to a doctor? “We cannot afford to take her to hospital.”
Something else keeps the displaced families up at night: hippopotamuses. They often come up from the water and approach the tent area, residents said.
“Last night, no one slept,” Remadji said. “Several hippos were right there near the tents and we had to chase them back towards the water. We need a fence or something to keep them away from us.”
In many parts of Walia the remnants of mud-brick homes poke up from mud and debris; metre-high walls of sandbags surround rubble in many areas where people’s efforts failed to block the floodwaters.
In one area of Walia young men were making mud bricks - with no cement mixed in with the dirt - to rebuild a part of a home that collapsed. Resident Etienne Banda said: “They can't afford to buy cement so they make do with what they have."
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