Blog by Barbara Jackson, Humanitarian Director, CARE International
“Chad is an oasis of peace and stability” was a refrain that we heard many times over from the Minister of Planning, the Minister of Agriculture, UN partner representatives and community leaders upon the recent CARE International National Director visit to Chad to observe for ourselves the current impact and implications of the Sahel drought.
It would seem quite a paradox to describe Chad as an island of stability given its recent war-torn history and continued episodes of uncertainty. But it is, indeed, now an island in a sea of volatility emanating from its neighboring countries of Libya, Nigeria, Mali, Northern Sudan and the Central African Republic.
It is however an oasis that has been forgotten in many ways. In this current crisis, it has been the country with the least amount of funding provided by international donors in response to the Chadian government’s early declaration of an emergency in December 2011.
From the sprawling, dusty city of N’djamena to the small prefecture headquarters of Biltine in northeastern Chad, where the drought has perhaps been most severe, we saw the impact of many years of neglect where potable water coverage reaches less than 3 percent of the population, contraceptive prevalence rate is about 2 percent and maternal mortality rates are amongst the highest in the world.
Food, wells and seeds
CARE Chad’s efforts to respond to this current crisis providing blanket feeding programmes to those most at risk, repairing wells, and distributing seeds for agriculture given that the seeds from last year’s harvest have already been eaten as food are much needed and greatly appreciated. However, the message was clearly put to us by government authorities as well as importantly by community men and women: this is a short term approach that does not fully address the critical underlying causes and needs, which contribute to this chronic and deepening cycle of drought and emergencies in this vulnerable area of the Sahel.
We sat with village elders in a small community about 30 minutes drive from Biltine and spoke with the traditional male leaders who described that the desert is growing and the rains becoming less reliable each year. Behind us, a group of women and children sat waiting patiently until we were able to turn and talk directly with them. A young woman, with her face covered with a traditional hijab (veil), spoke eloquently of her gratefulness of actually being asked her opinion of the support provided by CARE and the impact it had upon the community.
Many to share it
“The food has helped as we had nothing, but we have many people to share it with including our elderly who are not able to walk to collect the food and who have not been counted.” Clearly, we have much work to do to ensure that this community and many others scattered across the arid regions of this large nation and region do not find themselves in the same place next year and the year after that.
Chad, while being a “forgotten” country, is also a country ripe for opportunity and one in which we and other partners should support to develop communities’ and governments’ clear recognition of concerns of building resiliency and adaptation to the climatic and economic challenges of the present and the future. We need to continue to invest now and to over a longer term to build individuals’ and communities’ abilities as we listen and learn from their local experience and voices to shape a strong, resilient and courageous future.