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ENVIRONMENT-CHAD: Rats, Where There Once Were Elephants

Michaël Didama

N'DJAMENA, Feb 28 2007 (IPS) - Leaving the Chadian capital, N’Djamena, isn’t what it used to be.

“Thirty years ago, you’d still often come across herds of elephant crossing the highway at the southern exit of N’Djamena,” recalls Hassan Nago, a retired agriculture ministry official who lives in the village of Malo-Gaga, about 14 kilometres south-west of the capital.

The same was true of the village of Toukra, some 10 km from the city on the south-bound route.

“The area was very wooded, the plant life luxuriant, and elephants, antelopes, gazelles and hares were often present on the road,” notes Nago, as he reclines on his patchwork mat.

But today this forest, which extended for more than 20 km from the southern exit of N’Djamena to Koundol, encompassing Malo-Gaga, Ka’abé, Toukra, Do-matelas and Ngueli, has disappeared – and the elephants with it, Nago adds.

“The only thing that remains of this green forest are some thorn trees, jujube trees, soap nut trees, apple-ring acacias and palm trees. All that remains of the fauna are a few hares, varans, squirrels and puny rats.” (Varans are large lizards.)

He goes on to say that the finger of blame for this can be pointed in several directions. The growing need for firewood and charcoal in N’Djamena, the exodus from rural areas to villages around the city, and the 1979-1980 civil war which broke down forestry services have all played a role in the rapid deforestation of areas surrounding N’Djamena.

These views are echoed elsewhere.

“The excessive cutting of trees is the primary cause of the deterioration of the ecosystem around N’Djamena,” says Adoum Ngaba-Waye, director of the University Institute for Advanced Environmental Management Training. This facility is based in Sarh, in the south of the country.

Deforestation has also opened the door to flooding.

“There were no floods here before,” says Ada Titeina, a resident of Ka’abé village. “But today, because of the disappearance of trees, our village is completely flooded when there are heavy rains. We sometimes even use boats to get to N’Djamena,” she adds, noting that the inaccessibility of the village during the rainy season hampers the transport of agricultural produce to the city. The main activity in Ka’abé is rice cultivation.

During the last rainy season residents had to build enormous dams to protect their houses and fields. The structures also enabled certain paths to remain usable, even if they were sometimes muddy in places, notes Titeina.

N’Djamena counts the cost of deforestation during the dry season. The absence of trees around the capital to serve as a windbreak means that it is often filled with dust at this time.

These difficulties have spurred some to action.

“We have really tried hard to reforest our village,” says Ali Séid, another resident from Malo-Gaga. “But each time we do so, herds owned by Arab stock breeders – lacking pasture in the northern regions of the country – come and eat the new plants. This has often led to confrontations between villagers and Arab pastoralists.”

However, Ngaba-Waye remains hopeful.

“One can still adequately reforest N’Djamena and its periphery,” he says. What is needed is for drought resistant species to be planted. Certain species that are less robust could also be cultivated since two main rivers, the Chari and the Logone, run through this area.

”Reforesting N’Djamena and its periphery also requires financial means and above all political will,” adds Ngaba-Waye.

Kedallah Youssouf Hamid, governor of the Chari Baguirmi region, which administers N’Djamena’s peripheral villages, appears to believe this will is already in place. His team is aware of the situation and has initiated several projects to reforest the area, he says.

The most important of these projects will be the reforestation of the Koundoul-Mandélia region, which extends for about 50 km around N’Djamena. “This reforestation will create a green belt around N’Djamena,” says the governor.

For its part, central government established a national arbor week 20 years ago, which is commemorated every year at the beginning of August. During this week authorities lead communities around the country in planting trees.

But, again, these young plants are quickly eaten by wandering animals – as they are typically left unprotected.

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