With some of the refugee camps in Chad beginning to run out of water a year and a half after being set up, the new Gaga camp located 60 km from Abeche, the main eastern city, has a plentiful water supply, the UNHCR said.
The camp also will ease overcrowding in the Breidjing and Farchana camps in the same region as well as provide shelter to the hundreds of families of Sudanese refugees who live along the troubled desert border in hopes of a quick return home.
The UNHCR estimates at 197,000 the number of Sudanese refugees who have fled to camps in the vast desert nation to escape violence in western Sudan, where pro-government forces and militias are fighting non-Arab rebels.
And because the trouble is continuing, many of the families living in isolation outside the camps now have agreed to take shelter inside Gaga camp.
“We have come to Gaga today, well away from the border, because our safety is at stake,” said Adoum Moussa, who is in his 30s and was one of 173 people moved to the new shelter on Tuesday. He had spent two years living in Aghan, near the Chadian border town of Adre.
”The Janjawid (militias) are still attacking inside Chad and each day take camels, cattle and horses. We can’t go home because it’s not safe,” he added.
Aid workers in eastern Chad have reported a stream of incidents along the border in recent weeks. Last month, Chadian authorities accused Khartoum of backing rebels opposed to Chad President Idriss Deby who operate near the border.
The UNHCR coordinator Abdoulaye Bakayoko told reporters at the camp on Tuesday that: “Contrary to the other camps, Gaga has enough water to host … the few Sudanese refugees living along the border who we are going to bring in, and the camp will relieve overcrowding at Farchana and Breidjing.”
Those two camps, which were opened respectively in January and May 2004, together provide shelter for 50,000 people, which is well over capacity.
Gaga, which is close to a river and has four boreholes, has a capacity to shelter up to 30,000 people.
The UNHCR is planning in the coming weeks on transferring 9,000 refugees from Breidjing, 6,500 from Farchana and between 700 and 1,500 people living along the border, Bakayoko said.
Talks lasted for several months before the Chad government and the 40 families living on the site agreed to allow the UNHCR to install the new camp.
Also involved in its management are non-governmental organisations Africare, Oxfam, which is in charge of water and sanitation, CORD, education and community services and MSF Holland, which is in charge of health.
Health workers warned late last month that two out of the 11 refugee camps in arid eastern Chad are fast running out of water and no lasting solution has yet been found.
The most seriously affected camps are Am Nabak and Toulom, some of the northernmost camps that snake south along Sudan's 700 km border, according to UNHCR.
The Am Nabak site, which hosts 16,000 Sudanese refugees who spontaneously moved from the border, does not have its own water supply and was never suitable for the establishment of a camp, according to UNHCR.
Water has to be pumped out of wells in the town of Iriba and then trucked 40 kilometres through the desert to the camp.
At nearby Touloum refugee camp, water supplies are also dwindling.
There boreholes serving 20,000 refugees are not able to keep up with demand, and refugees have been receiving on average 9 to 12 litres of water per person per day, Garelli explained.
In the Am Nabak and Touloum sites, technicians are struggling to find alternative supplies