Climate change and hunger are fueling a refugee crisis in the African countries bordering Lake Chad: NPR

In the handful of countries bordering Lake Chad in Africa, climate change and hunger are fueling a refugee crisis.



AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Climate change can hit the poorest people in the world hardest. That’s true in and around Lake Chad. The lake, once one of the largest in Africa, has shrunk by about 90% in recent decades. For people on what were or still are banks in Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon, persistent drought is mixing with poverty, poor governance and the conflict in Ukraine driving up food prices to create a combustible situation. Willem Marx has this report.

WILLEM MARX, BYLINE: For more than three nights and days, Haoua Gawlou Moussa walked, swam and floated her way to safety. The Islamist group Boko Haram destroyed her home in western Chad, ruining her family’s life.

HAOUA GAWLOU MOUSSA: (Non English language spoken).

MARX: “During the night we slept, around 3 am, they set fire to the village,” she says. “Some people died. Some escaped. Some people escaped but left their children behind, like me. I left three of my children.” She lost track of those children in the chaos and, despite a desperate search, was never found. She assumes they must be dead. Now, safe in her brother’s village, she cooks dinner for her remaining children from what little she has – water with flour and twigs for a fire.

UNKNOWN PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

MARX: Lean as it is, Haoua’s food supply is relatively safe. But for the thousands of residents who live in a camp close to the waters of Lake Chad, life is more precarious. Like Haoua, they have also fled Boko Haram attacks on their homes in northern Nigeria. They have to make do in tents and depend on occasional distributions from the United Nations World Food Programme. Yagana Ali Abakar struggles to distribute those supplies to her family of nine.

YAGANA ALI ABAKAR: (Non English language spoken).

MARX: “The food I get is not enough to feed myself and my children,” she says. “I sell some of the basic food I get to buy ingredients for soup. I said I had to do something to help myself and my children.” She owns almost nothing except cooking utensils that she now uses far too rarely. She hopes to settle here as a seamstress with a rented sewing machine.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEWING MACHINE SOUNDS)

MARX: But deep in debt since her last food distribution a few weeks ago, she takes her children from door to door asking for charity from camp neighbors.

She has no food for her children today. Are there many such people?

NASURI SAIDU: Many people.

MARX: Nasuri Saidu is a former fisherman. He fished in the shrinking waters of Lake Chad. Now he also depends on UN rations that have recently been cut due to funding shortfalls.

SAIDU: Due to lack of food, you know, whatever you have, you will be able to sell it and buy food for your children.

MARX: UN supplies are only distributed every seven weeks, although Nasuri says some of the luckier camp residents who earn an income can buy food from makeshift markets. In Chad, a vast sub-Saharan scrubland, the government’s presence is limited. And next to the United Nations and NGOs, the most visible authority in many cities is the country’s military, one of the best armed and funded in the region. Chad’s decades of civil conflict have calmed down somewhat in recent years, meaning the war against Boko Haram has come to play a more central role in the military’s mission. But food shortages are helping the group recruit new fighters, according to Agassiz Baroum, a think tank director who has focused on the conflict.

AGASSIZ BAROUM: (Non English language spoken).

MARX: “There is a link between the insecurity caused by Boko Haram and food insecurity,” he says. “Because most of the people we interviewed in Lake Chad made it clear to us that if they joined Boko Haram, they were looking for food.” And his fieldwork has shown that continued violence only exacerbates the problem.

BAROUM: (Non-English language spoken).

MARX: “Here, the conflict has accelerated food insecurity,” he says, “due to the fact that Boko Haram commits abuses, carries out attacks, prevents the local population from going fishing, for example plowing fields, all activities are on hold and that’s why we’re seeing an increase in this food insecurity.” Back at camp, former fisherman Nasuri says he’s thankful for the little support he’s getting.

People here in Chad, are they hospitable? Do they help you?

SAIDU: They are hospitable and they help us.

MARX: But he’s also frustrated after arriving here seven years ago. His children are now more hungry than ever before, he explains as he introduces his family.

SAIDU: (Non-English language spoken).

UNKNOWN CHILD: (non-English language spoken).

SAIDU: (Non-English language spoken).

MARX: (Non-English language spoken).

Laughter is rare on Chad’s western border. Fear, uncertainty and empty stomachs are not. For NPR News, I’m Willem Marx in the Dar es Salaam camp in western Chad.

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