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Chad: saving animals, saving a way of life

21-04-2008 Feature

Stock breeding is so important in eastern Chad and the rest of the country that herding animals and growing crops are widely considered the twin pillars of the nation's economy. The recent fighting has driven many livestock owners to take refuge with their herds in areas of the country lacking the veterinary services sometimes essential to their animals' survival. The ICRC has therefore begun training veterinary care-givers. Veterinary delegate Ursula Kayali takes up the story.

In eastern Chad the herders lead their camels, cattle, sheep and goats on a seasonal migration. They spend the rainy season in the extensive pasture lands of the nomadic area around the town of Arada and in the Borkou-Ennedi-Tibesti region. Once the rains stop, water quickly becomes scarce, so they move south toward Dar Sila and Salamat. All these areas possess the fertile soil needed to feed large numbers of grazing animals. Richly decorated camels head the caravans moving up and down the migration routes. Their passing is often a festive event for locals, who suddenly find milk, other animal products and herdsmen's handicrafts available in their markets.

Though grazing and crop cultivation are not fundamentally at odds with each other, conflicts can arise between these different lifestyles and production systems. When a farmer or herdsman feels that his interests have been damaged, the conflict is sometimes settled peacefully by traditional means, i.e. local leaders discuss the matter under a tree while sipping tea, until a scheme for adequate compensation can be arrived at.

 Herders stigmatized  

In recent years, the intercommunal violence sporadically affecting eastern Chad has weakened traditional means of conflict resolution and, what with the events next door in Darfur, have made worse the stigmatization suffered by herders. The terms " Arab " , " black African " and " janjaweed " have often been used to describe a tension-laden reality that is not always what it appears.

The stigmatization of nomadic and semi-nomadic people has, little by little, imp eded their way of life, with the result that they have withdrawn to areas that are sometimes remote, for example beyond the wadis (water courses that are usually dry but can turn into raging torrents) among brush-covered hills. The price they pay for this isolation is not only the lack of health-care, social and government services but also a lack of veterinary care for their herds, without which herders have nothing.

Since the ICRC's mandate requires it to come to the aid of people affected by armed conflict and other violence, it made sense to develop a programme to train veterinary care-givers.

The care-giver is himself a herdsman chosen by his own community. He undergoes 14 days of training during which he learns to prevent, or recognize and treat, the most common diseases. At the end of the course he receives a stock of medicines. The income from their sale as well as from the consultations he gives and other services rendered to his community give him the means to renew that stock.

The desired result is that his community will benefit from his work and his skills while supporting his efforts to improve the health of all the community's herds.

 Meeting their own needs  

With support from the Ministry of Livestock, the ICRC in 2007 trained 74 care-givers in Dar Sila and 21 in the Arada area. Local veterinarians took part in the course and will now monitor the graduates'progress and augment the basic knowledge they have gained.

The ICRC has launched this programme in other areas as well. In March, it organized a course for 15 herdsmen in Iriba and Dar Zaghawa, a herding area that is hosting the largest camps of Sudanese refugees and sharing its resources with herdsmen from among those refugees.

In all, the programme to train care-givers has enabled over 23,000 people largely depending for their livelihood on herding to improve the their animals'health and to increase their productivity.

Supporting initiatives taken by conflict victims themselves to meet their own needs is at the core of the ICRC's approach to aid. The organization closely observes a community's way of life and its survival strategies. It then works together with that community to find the best way to meet its needs.

Over 80,000 displaced people facing particularly difficult situations in 2007 received emergency distributions of food and other essential items. At the same time the ICRC supported vegetable production by over 1,300 households. This consisted in providing entire communities with hand pumps and oil presses and in building warehouses in which to store the harvest.