An oasis of hope in the Chad desert

Published: 27 February 2012 16:03 CET

by Faye Callaghan in northern Chad

Death lingers in the air in northern Chad. A flock of enormous vultures feast on a donkey lying at the side of a track. Its search for food and water was futile in this harsh desert environment. Bones of animals that met the same fate are scattered all around. Pastoralists who still have animals alive herd them into the shade and hustle them along in their quest for grazing ground further south.

But in the distance appears an oasis; a cluster of palm trees and the shimmer of a lake. “There are many waddis in northern Chad,” says Idrissa Traore, food security delegate for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Chad. “They are where the rain water collects - when it does rain that is. And some also have natural springs.”

In one community outside the village of Nokou, each family has a small vegetable patch. The government provided a pump so they could continue to grow all year round. “These well-functioning waddis are a great solution to some of the problems faced by the communities here,” says Traore. “With a little investment we could made them a great source for many more communities.”

An inherent problem with life in the Sahel region is a lack of reliable rainfall. But many communities have adapted and found ways to grow, and store, enough for times of crisis. “Diversifying people’s income is important too,” adds Traore. “Many families have relied for so long on money coming from family members in Libya. But now these people are coming home, which actually doubles the problem as there is no money, but more mouths to feed.”

The Red Cross of Chad is hoping to start a number of activities with money raised from its emergency appeal. “We can give people goats so they can breed them and sell them. We can also provide cash so they buy items from the market and sell them in villages further away,” said Oumara Issami, President of the local Red Cross branch.  “We must not create a system of dependence. We can’t just feed people now; we must give them the means to have a sustainable life in the long term.”

Traore said they know things were looking bad as far back as October. “Usually, there is a small harvest in October or November. But last year there was nothing. There was nothing for the animals to eat. The insect infestations also had a huge impact on the crops. But there’s still time to act; not just to save lives in this emergency, but for the long term so we’re not coming back to help these people again next year.”

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