UNHCR chief promotes a return to self-sufficiency in Chad
BAGA SOLA, Chad – Despite improved security in the Lake Chad region over the past two years and the launch of self-sufficiency programmes for the displaced, tens of thousands of people are still dependent on aid in the once thriving area.
They include Nigerian refugees, members of local communities and former nomads used to roaming across a once peaceful land. Small steps are being taken by organizations like UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, to help people get by and stimulate renewed economic activity. But much more needs to be done in an area where trade has been devastated and large areas remain off limits to locals as well as the displaced because of continuing military operations.
“The people of this region have suffered enough; they need more attention from all of us,” stressed UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.
“The people of this region have suffered enough; they need more attention from all of us.”
Grandi is visiting the Lake Chad Basin countries on a trip aimed at focusing attention on the Nigeria displacement crisis, one of Africa’s gravest and which has uprooted more than 2.4 million people from their homes in Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad since 2014.
In Chad, there are 8,598 Nigerian refugees, including 5,882 in the Dar es Salam camp near Baga Sola town. Grandi flew in by helicopter today to hear about their challenges, needs and hopes. Local communities and camps here for internally displaced Chadians, many of whom were evacuated from islands in Lake Chad, provide shelter to another 95,000 people.
The military strategy of 2015 to cut off the Boko Haram insurgents on the islands after moving people to inland areas has improved security, but attacks do still take place and the displaced are not likely to be able to return home any time soon. In response, organizations such as UNHCR have been focusing on livelihood programmes for people who relied on fishing, farming, livestock herding or trade.
The High Commissioner highlighted a UNHCR fishing programme. “This is a small project but it raises morale, and brings so much hope and pride as well as food for the family and fish to sell to others. It can serve as a model for donors looking at how they can help,” said Grandi, who met some of the 150 families given canoes, hooks and nets for fishing in Lake Chad. He also went for a brief trip on Lake Chad in a canoe.
The vast majority of people, the internally displaced and impoverished locals, remain dependent on aid, and more livelihood projects like the fisheries venture visited by Grandi in Tagal are needed. “If we had more people in this programme, bigger nets and better equipment, we would quickly grow independent of aid, and lift the entire town – refugees and locals – from economic depression,” said Nigerian refugee Hawali Oumar.
But parts of the shrinking lake remain off limits for security reasons and environmental damage is compounding the problems there. It is the same for programmes aimed at helping farmers, herders and traders resume business and contribute to economic revival. Fields lie untended in insecure areas, cattle are vulnerable to theft by Boko Haram and cannot roam freely, traditional trade routes have been broken and borders remain closed.
“If we had more people in this programme, bigger nets and better equipment, we would quickly grow independent of aid."
The troubles of the region have forced one group, Arab Chadian herders, to completely change their nomadic way of life, move into a camp for internally displaced people on the outskirts of Baga Sola, and accept the charity of strangers. With the traditional seasonal movement of livestock, known as transhumance, disrupted, livestock prices at one tenth of their value two years ago, and many of their cattle stolen by Boko Haram, they have been forced to adopt a sedentary lifestyle and are effectively displaced.
Since their traditional ways have been disrupted, the young are not learning the skills of the pastoralist and the herders are finding it hard to adjust to arable agriculture with the challenges of water availability, absence of wells, irregular rainfall, desertification of the lake and soil salinity. They fear for their future and their people.
Their greatest needs are health care and education, but this is an extra burden for local authorities in Baga Sola amid the economic crisis. With increased international support, more people, refugees and the internally displaced alike, will be able to start rebuilding their lives while waiting for lasting peace to return.
On Friday in Cameroon, Grandi is to launch a 2017 inter-agency appeal for funds to help almost half-a-million people affected by the Boko Haram insurgency in the Lake Chad Basin. He expressed his hope that donors would respond generously.
“The fact that progress has been made in fighting Boko Haram and re-establishing security should not make us feel that humanitarian assistance is not necessary. It is still very urgent," he said.