November 10, 2017 / 7:17 AM / a month ago

Global-warming ground zero: Chad grapples with climate damage

DOSSEYE, Chad (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Leila Ousmane and her 10-year-old daughter walk in disbelief atop the crumbling bricks that, until a few days earlier, formed the walls of their family home.

Heavy rains and floods in late September ravaged the Dosseye refugee camp where they live, toppling their house of mud bricks and wooden stumps into rubble.

“We went to live with my neighbor,” said Ousmane. “But last night, the storm made their house collapse too.”

Chad, a country already beset by economic and humanitarian crises, faces another looming disaster: climate change.

It was ranked as the country most vulnerable to the effects of global warming in a 2016 index compiled by risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft. The annual ranking combines exposure to climate change with a state’s capacity to respond.

While governments discuss ways to slow climate change at annual U.N. talks in Bonn from Nov. 6-17, the impacts of a hotter planet are already wreaking havoc in Chad, a landlocked Central African nation with a population of 14 million.

In Dosseye camp in the south, thousands of refugees from Central African Republic, chased from their homes by murderous gangs since 2013, have found themselves ousted from their new homes once again - this time by extreme weather, which is predicted to get worse as the planet warms.

Ousmane’s family was one of about 600 whose makeshift dwellings were flooded or destroyed in late September.

Across the region, roads and fields were submerged under water, making transport difficult and spoiling harvests.

The flood waters also increased the risk of cholera, malaria, dengue fever and other diseases, experts said.

“We see such cases (of flooding) more and more,” said Ferdinand Dana Obo, who works in southern Chad for the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), a religious body that does aid work.

In recent years, the rains have come earlier and lasted longer, disrupting local farming and cattle-rearing, Obo said.

SHRINKING LAKE

The most glaring effects of climate change, however, are seen around Lake Chad, which also borders Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon. Once one of Africa’s largest lakes, its water mass has shrunk by over 90 percent in the past 50 years.

The reduction in size has disrupted the livelihoods of more than 21 million people who rely on the lake’s resources for their basic needs such as fishing and growing crops.

This environmental disaster, coupled with an insurgency by Islamist militant group Boko Haram which has killed tens of thousands and uprooted hundreds of thousands, has left more than 7 million people hungry and in need of food aid across the Lake Chad basin this year, according to the United Nations.

Meanwhile in eastern Chad, alternating droughts and floods are making life even tougher for more than 300,000 refugees from Sudan and their Chadian hosts, says the U.N. refugee agency.

AFRICA VULNERABLE

Leila Ousmane and her 10-year old daughter standing on the crumbling bricks that, until a few days ago, formed the walls of their family home in Dosseye refugee camp, southern Chad on September 27, 2017. Thomson Reuters Foundation / Inna Lazareva

Though Chad is considered to be one of the countries worst affected by climate change, in Africa it is by no means alone.

A January study by the Brookings Institute said the continent is home to seven out of ten countries projected to be hit hardest by climate change: Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Nigeria, Chad, Ethiopia, Central African Republic and Eritrea.

With 94 percent of Africa’s farm produce rain-dependent, climate change is already harming harvests. Crop yields from rain-fed agriculture could decrease by up to 50 percent by 2020 with severe consequences for food security, the report warned.

Hotter temperatures and heavier rainfall mean malaria, one of the continent’s biggest killers, will also spread to new areas, including the highlands of Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi, the study noted.

Rising sea levels will affect West Africa in particular, where 56 percent of GDP is generated near the coast, it added.

TREE-PLANTING

Boy stands outside his house which had been destoyed by flooding in the Dosseye refugee camp, southern Chad, on September 27, 2017. Thomson Reuters Foundation / Inna Lazareva

Every year, millions of people in Chad are unable to survive without food assistance, said Florent Méhaule, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the country.

Changing that will require a big push to help communities become more resilient and adapt to the effects of climate change, he said.

Chad’s delegation at the Bonn climate change talks is seeking funding and technology to support such projects, said officials from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Meanwhile, on the ground, international agencies are working with Chad’s government and others to try to limit the damage.

One key approach is to cultivate more trees. In the south, alongside education on environmental protection, the LWF planted 138.5 hectares (342 acres) of moringa trees this year.

Moringa, nicknamed “miracle trees” because of their numerous benefits, grow quickly, helping replace some of the native trees constantly being cut down for firewood and to clear space for agriculture.

Moringa fruit and leaves can both be eaten and help combat malnutrition and diabetes, said the LWF’s southern Chad coordinator Katie Schlaudt.

The organization is also trying to reduce tree-felling by teaching locals to use mud and metal cooking stoves that need less fuel wood to prepare a meal as they centralize heat better.

In the Lake Chad region, following a pledge made at the Paris climate change conference in 2015, the UNDP is managing a program to plant trees on 4,000 hectares which will prevent sand sweeping across and spoiling the Sahel’s fertile farmland.

It will also help communities set up small businesses, such as shops and market stalls, to boost the local economy.

But in a race against time, greater efforts are needed to stop climate change worsening hunger and poverty, experts say.

“Climate change studies project things will get increasingly hot and arid throughout the 21st century, which means lower crop yields, worse pasture - and a harder life for anyone dependent on Lake Chad,” said UNDP Chad director Carol Flore-Smereczniak.

Reporting by Inna Lazareva, Editing by Megan Rowling; Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit www.trust.org

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