Africa, Development & Aid, Headlines

DEVELOPMENT-CHAD: Drought Bodes Ill for Food Supply

Lyne Mikangou

BRAZZAVILLE, Nov 29 2000 (IPS) - Poor rainfall during the rainy season this year has small farmers in Chad worrying about the 2000-2001 harvest.

Lake Chad, a veritable inland sea when at high water is currently dangerously low.

“Thirty years ago, this lake covered 25,000 square kilometres. Today, it only covers a tenth of that, 2,500 square kilometres,” noted Etienne Kississou, a Chadian expert on the lake which is situated 281 metres above sea level.

The Lake Chad basin straddles the borders of Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, and Chad.

The volume of the two main rivers emptying into the lake, the Chari and the Logone, has diminished drastically due to the lack of rain. Several small rivers and streams in the Central African Republic which also supply the basin are also very low.

Feeble rainfall during the June through October rainy season is to blame for Chad’s water emergency.

The water shortage has also played havoc with the sowing season, the effects of which may be felt for many harvests to come.

“Serious food shortages are expected in Chad’s Sahelian regions, where farmers are expecting a poor 2000-2001 harvest,” announced Saleh Kebzabo, the Chadian Minister of Agriculture.

It is projected that Chad, situated at the gateway to the Sahara, will be 370,000 metric tons short of its normal 800,000 ton grain harvest.

The three departments hit hardest by the drought are Biltine in the east, Kanem in the west, and Batha, in central Chad. More than 1.5 million people live in these three departments, out of a total population of 7.5 million.

The drought has also wrought incalculable damage on animal husbandry. Ponds and watering holes where livestock gather to drink are running dry. Observers believe that ranchers will move their flocks south, where the pasture is better, earlier this year than normal.

The agriculture minister has urgently appealed to the international community to provide assistance to the regions hardest hit by the drought. The minister solicited help during a meeting of water resource ministers from several central African countries held recently in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo.

In addition to Chad and the Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Gabon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Burundi, and Rwanda were also represented.

A multi-nation agency to manage water resources was set up as a result of the meeting. One of its missions will be to build channels and dams, in an effort to make drought and desertification things of the past.

The countries bordering the lake plan to move some of the Ubangi- Chari River waters into Lake Chad to restore it to its former dimensions.

Sources here say that the countries plan to build a pipeline at the Congo basin which will supply irrigation water for Chad.

Nevertheless, central Africa still maintains huge reserves of water, estimated at 2,700 billion cubic metres, almost 51 percent of the continent’s total.

Unfortunately, however, the water is inequitably distributed. Experts agree that its scarcity in some of the region’s countries, such as Chad, is the source of many of the area’s woes.

“In the 1970s, most rivers and streams had plenty of water. But by now, many have completely dried up, and the water level of others is much lower than before,” according to Mpeco Etienne, the director of the Central African Republic’s waterworks.

“These facts are the result of irresponsible human activity, which has changed the global ecology and caused climate change. Such change sometimes results in severe droughts, which cause crop and livestock loss, etc. It’s the root of a long string of problems which, in turn, create new ones,” he explained.

Such a situation has put Chad, one of the world’s poorest nations, where the per capita annual income is only 200 dollars, on the brink of disaster.

“Humanitarian aid is only a temporary solution. Since rain is a natural phenomenon, we need to permanently solve this problem with accurate and precise planning that will allow us to bring our water resources under control,” Kississou stated.

Jean-Pierre Bidjocka, a rural planning engineer and assistant director of Cameroon’s water conveyances department, believes that improving the maintenance of already existing bodies of water would be a good start to this process.

“For example, we need to clean out the sand and other detritus when there is low water. If not, in 50 years you’ll be able to walk across those bodies of water,” he warned.

Olivier Christian, the director of Gabon’s waterworks, agrees.

“Living in a region which normally has plenty of water has meant that we’ve been lax about preserving our water resources. We really should have begun cleaning and dredging the bottoms of our rivers sooner, because otherwise, we contributing to eutrophication,” he said.

 
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