Tuesday, December 08, 2009

When Aid is the Problem

Prior to 2003 there had been only one UN agency and two non-profit organizations in the eastern Chad town of Abéche. Since the arrival of refugees from Darfur in late 2003, a dozen UN agencies and dozens of NGOs have arrived in Abéché.More than 1,000 members of the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) - sent to boost border security and facilitate refugee and Chadian returns - have also used Abéché as a base since March 2009.

When an aid vehicle is stolen some people cheer and say the aid organization got what it deserved . Abéché saw one of the highest rates of crime ever against aid agencies in 2009.

"There is the perception that humanitarian organizations have driven up the cost of living in the town - water, electricity, housing," said the French think-tank Emergency Rehabilitation Development director, François Grunewald. "There is a view that carjackings are a form of justice, like Robin Hood taking from the rich."
The town's water system was ill-prepared for the influx of aid workers and peacekeepers, said URD's Grunewald. "Locals have a different relationship with water than foreigners who are more wasteful and do not conserve."
Foreigners have also driven up housing and food costs in Abéché to levels "out of reach of vulnerable residents," he added.

Prices for rice, flour, meat, millet, sorghum and sugar in Abéché have increased by an average of 51 percent in the last seven years based on a 2009 URD market survey. Chad's inflation rate in 2008 was just over 3 percent, according to the African Development Bank.

Marcel Nguebaroum, a paediatric ward nurse at Abéché's regional hospital, said: "I could get a chicken for 600 francs [US$1.38] before 2004... and a room cost me 2,500 francs [$5.75]. Now a chicken costs 3,500 [$8]... and owners can ask for whatever price they want for housing because they think we are somehow able to pay. We are all expected to pay what you foreigners are able to pay." Nguebaroum said that though foreigners earn many times more than locals, prices are set according to foreign salaries.

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