Log book of a mobile team at the gates of the Sahara
N'DJAMENA [ACTED News] - Before the war in Libya began, around 300,000 Chadians were living in Libya. In the last six months of the conflict, more than 80,000 among them fled the crisis and found refuge in their homeland. Many had no other solution than to regain Chad by road, through the Sahara desert. An ACTED mobile team was mobilized to grant these people minimal access to drinking water at the territory’s entry points and transit centers set up by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Here is an excerpt from their log book:
IOM told us this afternoon that the well in Zouarke, an entry point for migrant convoys from Libya, is dried up and filled with sand. Fifteen trucks, fully loaded with more than 100 women, men, and children, are on their way from Sebha, in southern Libya, where the fighting was predominant. They are expected in Zouarke at the end of next week. These trucks transporting returnees will need two weeks to cross the Nigerien desert separating the last oasis in Libya and Zouarke, the first village in Chad. Migrants from Chad or from other parts of the sub region have been fleeing the fighting in southern Libya, and some violence aimed at Sub-Saharan populations, assimilated to mercenaries. On this long journey, they have very little access to water, and Zouarke will be their first supply source. Hence how vital the basic services are for them over there. IOM therefore set up a base there to provide basic medical care, food and water to help them through the week’s travel that awaits them before they reach the next point in Faya. We urgently need to get to Zouarke to rebuild the water source before the next migrants get there.
We got the green light for the launch of an intervention from ACTED Chad’s national coordination office in N’Djamena. In Faya, we went quickly to the market to find necessary items for digging the Zouarke well: a tripod, a pulley, a harness long enough for the 30 to 40 meter deep well, two picks, two shovels, two crowbars and two 20-liter buckets. All set. All we need to know is who is to go down the well to check and evaluate the amount of work, and to start digging the sand out.
Good news! The Mines Advisory Group, an organization specialized in mine clearing, is on its way to Zouarke tomorrow! Regular and meticulous work is underway in Chad’s greater north region, to identify minefields, risk areas, and to proceed with emergency interventions. We can join their convoy. We should be in good hands.
We left on time for Zouarke. Here we go for a day and a half of driving through the desert. Once we get there, we will look for local tunnel-makers. They will be crucial for the operation’s success, by their knowledge and experience of the region.
After a night in the desert, we arrived in Zouarke. We found available local diggers, and we are now ready to go down the well. We still have to find out if the well can be rehabilitated. If not, we will have to go for a more costly and technical solution, which could take weeks to undertake, considering the logistical and equipment supply challenges at hand.
We have begun digging the well. We will be able to extract the sand from the bottom of the well to reach groundwater. Rehabilitation should be possible!
We finally struck water! There is a 2.5 meter water pool at the bottom of the well. That was close. Five trucks arrived only a few hours after we finished the rehabilitation. Migrants will be able to drink, wash, cook and make ablutions upon arrival in Zouarke.
Time to return to Faya to continue granting access to potable water for returnees traveling across the nine entry points and transit centers in northern Chad. What we have left to do: chlorination, disinfecting existing water sources, setting up tanks and water trucking, sanitizing water points to prevent the spread of waterborne diseases, etc. Access to water in the Sahara is a constant challenge.
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