World Vision Fears Humanitarian Disaster Amid Chad Chaos

World Vision staff in Chad fear that the violence and chaos surrounding attempts to overthrow the country's president could spiral into a humanitarian disaster if the fighting is not brought to a halt soon.

Thousands of civilians fled the capital N'Djamena on Monday after rebels pulled back from the city late Sunday night following two days of heavy street clashes to oust President Idriss Deby, who they say has led a corrupt and dictatorial regime for the last 18 years. At least 700 French and other foreign nationals were evacuated over the weekend from the former French colony.

Levourne Passiri, World Vision's national director in Chad, from N'Djamena, said, "We did not expect things to happen this quickly. I fear that the entire capital could be destroyed. There is already much human and economic damage. Many civilians have been killed."

Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres estimates that several hundred people were injured in the fighting over the weekend, while the bodies of dead civilians lay scattered on the capital's streets.

The rebel thrust on the presidential palace forced international aid agency World Vision to move staff and their families to safe houses and to close its office in the capital.

"I live about 20 km from the presidential palace, and we can hear the fighting all the time. Soldiers are circulating around the city," reported Passiri, before he and his family were forced to move to a safer location.

"At this point the roads are blocked so we have no possibility of leaving the city. Security at the moment is very difficult," he continued.

He added that the World Vision office in the capital had been attacked, but that all staff members are safe for the moment.

World Vision runs a number of community development programs in central and southern Chad, serving local communities with health and nutrition, education, HIV prevention, water and sanitation, microfinance and agricultural schemes. The programs have been affected by the security concerns and staff members have been forced to restrict their movements.

The aid agency said it feared that a humanitarian crisis could develop if a negotiated ceasefire or mediated transition of power is not achieved soon, as this could trigger factional fighting that would displace civilians.

The chaotic violence has forced World Vision to consider evacuating its 250 staff in the country to nearby Cameroon, where streams of refugees are already heading. The aid agency said, however, that it hoped this would not be necessary.