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ICRC: Triple Emergencies As Lake Chad Herders Battle COVID-19, Violence and Climate Change

COVID-19 restriction is compounding livelihood stresses and impact of climate change on herders in Lake Chad.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says pastureland is disappearing fast due to climate change in the area surrounding Lake Chad, from Fouli to Kouloudia, Wayi and Mamdi in Chad.

” Livestock are dying off and herders in the region are understandably worried

“On top of it all, recent measures taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are preventing herders from accessing livestock markets. In many villages, their distress is palpable,” ICRC stated.

The report highlights the ripple effect of COVID-19 restrictions, climate change and the war in the Lake Chad region and their impact on herders.

“We already had a hard time travelling because of the armed groups in the area. Now there’s this curse that keeps us from selling our animals at the market. It’s a disaster. Is this the end of the world or what?” wondered Ali.

Ali, a pastoralist from Kouloudia in Chad’s Lac Province, gave ICRC an account of the impact of the triple emergencies of armed conflicts, climate change and social restrictions introduced by authorities to restrict large gatherings in an effort to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“Peace and social stability here have been upended by conflict since 2015. Attacks by armed groups and skirmishes between such groups and the armed forces are common. In March, 2020, the Chadian army launched a full-scale offensive after one of its bases was attacked. Ever since, the region has been considered a war zone,” ICRC stated.

Civilians bear the brunt of climate change and conflict; local people have lost loved ones, property and possessions. Many have chosen – or been forced – to flee, abandoning everything in the hopes of escaping the violence and finding a better life elsewhere, the organisation remarked.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Chad, nearly 170,000 people in Lac Province have been displaced and herders have been hit particularly hard.

ICRC added that In 2020, the situation had been made worse by two new scourges: an unprecedented shortage of animal fodder and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The feed shortage, which is the result of uneven rainfall in 2019, is the worst in 30 years. And restrictions imposed in response to the pandemic have added to herders’ struggles, it stated.

Many herders have been forced to give up their nomadic way of life.

“Normally our animals help us to survive. Now we’re forced to share with them what little food we have for ourselves and our children. But we don’t even know if they’ll survive until the next rainy season,” said Falmata Mahamat, who is married to one of the herders.

Al-hadji Mahamat, a herder, explained that even after the restrictions were lifted, it would be useless to take his animals to the market. Why? Because his herd is in a sorry state.

“Who’d pay so much as a cent for these starving, half-dead animals? If things go on like this, our entire herd will die. And us with them,” Mahamat said.

The ICRC plans to support herders through a programme to distribute 105 tonnes of cattle cake and 75 tonnes of bran to over 8,100 herders and their families in 12 of Lac Province’s hardest-hit villages, including Kaya and Fouli.

Since armed conflict broke out in Nigeria over a decade ago and spilled over into the Lake Chad region, thousands of cattle, sheep, goats and camels have been stolen by armed men, leaving herders even poorer and more vulnerable than before.

The fighting has also made it dangerous to move herds from place to place in search of better grazing.

Access to pastureland has been restricted and international trade cut off, the very cornerstone of pastoral livestock herding free movement is being undermined.

Nomadic herders all across the Sahel are facing difficult conditions.

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Murtala Abdullahi

Abdullahi Murtala is a researcher and reporter. His expertise is in conflict reporting, climate and environmental justice, and charting the security trends in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region. He founded the Goro Initiative and contributes to dialogues, publications and think-tanks that report on climate change and human security. He tweets via @murtalaibin

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