COVID-19, violence and climate change: Lake Chad herders in distress
"We already had a hard time travelling because of armed groups in the area. Now there's this curse that keeps us from selling our animals at market. It's a disaster. Is this the end of the world or what?" wondered Ali.
Ali is a pastoralist from Kouloudia in Chad's Lac province. He gave us an emotional account of his day-to-day life, which has become even more difficult as the authorities restrict large gatherings in an effort to control the spread of 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.
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. 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, or about one third of the population. Herders have been hit particularly hard.
In 2020, the situation has been made even 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.
"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 are lifted, it will be useless to take his animals to 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."
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.