Starving Chad chews on leaves, animal feed

Nekarambaya Kamndo runs his hand down the rain gauge, explaining how much rain should fall in a normal year.

‘There should be 10mm in it,” says the chief engineer of Am Dam, a sandbattered district in eastern Chad. ‘But last year just 369mm of rain fell in 17 days.”

In 2000 596mm fell in 40 days. The consequences, say experts, are devastating. Two million people will now go hungry by June, says Oxfam, as Chad experiences its worst drought in 50 years.

Across the central African country and the entire Sahelian belt, a long thin region that stretches across northern Africa, people are feeling the deteriorating impact of the Sahara Desert’s steady southward migration.

Although it has expanded and contracted over the years, the population of the region has doubled since the 1950s and a large increase in livestock herds has accelerated its growth. Throw in the spectre of climate change and it makes for an ugly mix.

Normally, each hectare of land in Am Dam should have produced 600kg of millet and 500kg of sorghum at harvesting time in September. ‘This year, nothing. Absolutely nothing” says Kamndo. ‘All has been lost.” People are eating leaves and, in some of the surrounding villages, animal feed.

In the local market the latter sells for $1.37 for 50kg, compared with $9.10 for a 50kg bag of subsidised government meal, which no one can afford. Groundnut oil residue, a brittle rock-like material normally given to goats, is selling at 91¢ for a bowl. Several months ago it was going for 18¢. ‘People are buying it, oh yes,” said one stallholder. ‘It’s all they can afford.”

And with little or no food left in most stores, Aid workers now fear that the onset of the traditional lean season will compound the hunger crisis before the next harvest is due in September. That might end up hurting Chad more than other countries in the Sahel, such as Mali and Niger, for no other reason than that the international aid community is not very interested in it.

‘In general donors are concentrated on refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) and little money outside of that is available,” said Tariq Roland Riebl, the deputy head of Oxfam in Chad. He said Chad had many problems unrelated to conflict, including chronic underdevelopment in food security, water, health and education. ‘Sadly, refugees and IDPs have higher standards in their camps and sites than do Chadians.”

In November last year the UN World Food Programme said that in Chad there had been a 34% drop in food production in 2009-2010 compared with the previous year and warned of a food crisis . But very little money has been made available. Given that the rains will soon make all roads impassible, any food that arrives after June 30 cannot be distributed.

The main enemy of Chad and its people is desertification, the effects of which are not limited to the destruction of traditional farmland—Arab herders of the north are increasingly settling further south in search of water and grazing.

‘This is leading to a conflict between the Muslim north and Christian/animist south,” said General Gerald Aherne, the deputy force commander of the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad. ‘It frequently results in violence and adds to the potent mix of refugee and IDP problems already existing there.” That’s storing up problems for the future, in a country already struggling with the onset of sand and dust.

‘The desert is advancing,” said Kamndo. ‘The sand is moving on to the streets like it hasn’t before. We now get sandstorms and the animals don’t go as far out any more to graze. ‘And it’s very hot. I’ve never known it so hot.”



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