From the sprawling, dusty city of N’djamena to the small prefecture headquarters of Biltine in northeastern Chad, where the drought has perhaps been most severe, we saw the impact of many years of neglect where potable water coverage reaches less than 3 percent of the population, contraceptive prevalence rate is about 2 percent and maternal mortality rates are amongst the highest in the world. CARE Chad’s efforts to respond to this current crisis providing blanket feeding programs to those most at risk, repairing wells, and distributing seeds for agriculture given that the seeds from last year’s harvest have already been eaten as food are much needed and greatly appreciated. However, the message was clearly put to us by government authorities as well as importantly by community men and women: this is a short term approach that does not fully address the critical underlying causes and needs, which contribute to this chronic and deepening cycle of drought and emergencies in this vulnerable area of the Sahel.
We sat with village elders in a small community about 30 minutes drive from Biltine and spoke with the traditional male leaders who described that the desert is growing and the rains becoming less reliable each year. Behind us, a group of women and children sat waiting patiently until we were able to turn and talk directly with them. A young woman, with her face covered with a traditional hijab (veil), spoke eloquently of her gratefulness of actually being asked her opinion of the support provided by CARE and the impact it had upon the community. “The food has helped as we had nothing, but we have many people to share it with including our elderly who are not able to walk to collect the food and who have not been counted.” Clearly, we have much work to do to ensure that this community and many others scattered across the arid regions of this large nation and region do not find themselves in the same place next year and the year after that.
Chad, while being a “forgotten” country, is also a country ripe for opportunity and one in which we and other partners should support to develop communities’ and governments’ clear recognition of concerns of building resiliency and adaptation to the climatic and economic challenges of the present and the future. We need to continue to invest now and to over a longer term to build individuals’ and communities’ abilities as we listen and learn from their local experience and voices to shape a strong, resilient and courageous future.