Climate change escalates Darfur crisis
Less rainfall on the fringes of the Sahara Desert is putting more of a strain on resources than ever before.
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"You have to provide fodder, you need to provide feeding areas and pastureland. If there is not enough for the animals to eat, then there is no reason for people to be there, and they are going to move south."Skip to next paragraph
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And herders moving into areas inhabited by farmers is what has sparked many of the clashes to date.
Meanwhile, the thankless task of providing water for the 220,000 refugees – and increasingly to local communities – falls on the shoulders of the UNHCR, which oversees the running of a dozen camps as well as the half dozen sites for 120,000 Chadians displaced by a civil conflict that erupted last year in Eastern Chad.
The UN, together with other donors such as USAID, is studying possibilities for creating more sustainable water sources for the growing populations of Eastern Chad, building catchment dams to hold onto the season rains that flow through dry river beds called wadis. They are also conducting seismic mapping tests to find likely sources of deep underground aquifers.
Gabriel Salas leads a UNHCR-funded team with much more immediate goals: finding enough water to get refugees through the dry season. The place where he has found water is underneath these wadis in vast canyons carved out of sandstone by more permanent rivers from a geological period when the Sahel was a much wetter place.
Now filled with sand, these underground canyons are ideal aquifers for storing water.
It was Salas who dug a bore well in a wadi, 34 kilometers from Abéché, that supplies water for the 80,000 people of Abéché. "All the water for this town comes from one bore well, 34 kilometers from here," he says. "What does that tell you? In a radius of 34 kilometers, you cannot find groundwater unless you go to a wadi."
Salas, as a geologist, doesn't see the problem of global warming as a recent phenomenon, but as something that has been going on for thousands of years. "The attack of Rome by Hannibal happened 2,400 years ago, and he took elephants from Carthage and marched them toward Rome. Now, the fact that you had elephants in the North of Africa shows that there has been climate change and that desertification has been taking place for a long time." If there is one obstacle preventing a longer-term solution to the problem of water in Eastern Chad and Darfur, i's money. The longer that a conflict remains unresolved, and the longer that refugees stay in foreign lands, the harder it is for UN agencies, such as the UNHCR, and relief agencies, like Care and Oxfam, to raise money for their relief. Longer-term development projects, such as the provision of water for citizens, are the responsibility of governments, where World Bank and UN Development Program funded projects can take years and decades to design and put into place.
This means that local people and Sudanese refugees will continue to see each other as rivals in the constant hunt for water.
At a public well on the outskirts of Iriba, a dozen or so local men and children drop buckets 50 feet and hit mud. A lucky few managed to scrape the last few gallons off of the floor. The current rate for 140 liters is about $5. This is less than half of the amount of water the average American uses in a day (300 to 375 liters, or 80 to 100 gallons, according to the US Geological Service.)
"We have had more than five years with not much rain," says Abakar Abdullah Djibrine, a water seller at the well. "Before there was water, but now there is no water, and water is very expensive. Yes, people are angry. Life is too difficult without water."
Why a Rwandan survivor runs a Chad refugee camp