Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Climate Change: Hard Choices Poor People Must Make.

Aaron kaah Yancho

           While people in many parts of the world are thinking ahead how to adapt to the climate changes, it’s impact are already  overwhelmingly being felt in  Africa.  The situation at the Lake Chad River Basin and the Far North Regions of Cameroon present a classic challenge posed by climate changes as more than 42 million people had lost their livelihoods over the last twenty years. Rainfall had unbelievably dropped between 29 percent and 49 percent between 1968 and 1997, according to the International Panel on Climate     change. The resulting effects was the drastic decline in food crop production.          
 The impact started from the Sahel which constitutes part of this region.  As the Sahel was  drying  up, graziers who are nomads by tradition and necessity were chasing the south of the basin in search of arid land to feed their livestock. The shrinking of the Lake Chad River Basin made a bad situation precarious.  This led to the vegetation of the region being lost. Without- plant cover, the temperatures in the soils raised as water in the soils evaporated swiftly. This absence of vegetation resulted to the high dead of cattle and the disappearance of agriculture. Most Fulani pastoralist without cattle lost not only their livelihood but heritage. “ When we lost a cattle it’s just like one of our family members has died” One Fulani pastoralist whose one but last  cattle had just died told this reporter in tears.

              The population in the basin had risen even as its climate changed. To guard against hunger the locals  strived to make the most of the limited resources available and to control the disappearing natural resources. In struggling to adjust to the shifting river beds of the Lake Chad River basin which provided fertile land for   farm work, food crop production became  not only  an up hill task  but not rewarding.  The first early signs were droughts. It’s the result of a string of recent droughts in this region that -the United Nations' Environment Program (UNEP) renamed   climate change in the Sahel as  “ground zero.” These droughts had frustrated farmers  and fishermen in their bid to provide for themselves and feed their  families. Without a means to feed most girls had abandoned schools to fend with their mothers in the dusty fields. In trying to make ends meet women worked long hours in the fields. This meant they never had time to learn a trade, get an education  or be part of the decision making in their communities.
         When the lake flooded in the past large scale agricultural production took place in the area but today red dusty sand dunes had taken over thousands of hectares of farm land. Some projects to irrigate farmland instead drain away fertile wetlands. Leaving the peasants down stream desperate in need of water for farming.  As the streams were diverted, farming along the basin diminished. Desert sand dunes and desertification took over the fields.
        With farm land buried under sand dunes, the people strived to find hope in the diminishing resources.  The competition over  the few natural resources like grazing land and water ponds  prone the basin to violence. As the villagers tussle for these water resources and grazing fields the lack of protection  for these resources saw them diminishing at an alarming rate. And for many people daily life was also changing as violence  also encroached.  People in this region of Cameroon  and the Lake Chad River basin live in absolute  famine conditions.  The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) had termed the situation an “ecological catastrophe,” predicting that the lake basin could disappear at all if urgent measures were not taken.
           In the Nigerian section of the basin, food crops stood like dry sticks in the  sandy fields.   As the desert was extending  fast southwards, farmers  predicted to be on the move through out the year were gnashing their teeth in agony and hunger. Villagers living in tiny villages of mud houses crowd like refugees in river beds in search of water for drinking. “In times of high need we were all forced to move to a distance oasis were we will be able to drink with our small livestock” Alhadji yuro a Fulani pastoralist told this reporter. No doubt why the  residents in these villages had become what the United Nations called “environmental refugees”.
           At the nearby Sudan’s region of Darfur, this situation had reached crisis proportions as at least 200,000 died since civil war broke out there in 2000-The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki –Moon  called it “no accident|” that the violent in Darfur erupted during the drought in the Sahel where precipitation  declined 40% since the 1980’s. He also attributed strife in Burkina Faso, Somalia and the Ivory Coast to a “similar volatile mix of food and water insecurity”. As the  climate change promises to make farming an even less viable strategy in this region where at least two countries are predicted to lose their agricultural industries in the next 100 years. A 2000 Yale University study, Climate Change Impacts on African Agriculture, forecasted that rain-fed agriculture could disappear entirely in Chad and Niger by 2100.
           A development organization -Heifer International Cameroon was helping the villages in the Far North region of Cameroon to make the most of the resources on the ground. Farmers under various organizations were taught simple ways of pasture establishment, animal management, care for the earth and other ways of improving nutrition. This knowledge most of these groups  earned was  key to the development of their livelihoods.  One of the beneficiaries- Mama Bitang had used Heifer Cameroon donated animals and teachings to build  her life and that of her family with 9 dependents after several years of frustrations. This widow  had lost her husband to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Through  her women’s Femmes Ambiteuses Common Initiative Group  Bitang like other women in her dry up community began finding little hope of survival. Unfortunately this stitch in time is not enough as the means is also limited. People who live in this basin are seeing little or no benefits from international efforts to help them.
               The UN  and other Development Agencies  started working with countries around  the basin several decades ago. In 1988 an International Environment Organization Global Environment Facility (GEF)  and the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) mapped out a 20year plan as a start to a revolution to reforests the land and change water diversion policies in the area but “the task had been too slow” according to the UN water report.
             As an urgent remedy is in wait, the World Bank  provided $10.6 million  grant for  projects  on sustainable land  and water management  schemes in some parts of this region. In addition, the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC ) was educating graziers  on integrated livestock management and zero grazing as well as tree planting and pasture establishment. Water users were taught efficient water using schemes and fishermen more appropriate techniques for fishing. These  efforts to institutionalize  broad base policies were not helping this region  at all, because the region and its people is  fragmented by controversial  and conflicting policies laid down by the different governments around the Lake basin and the unnecessary numerous tribal  and regional conflicts over land and water resources.
           With limited means or infrastructures, information dissemination and communication had been fragile and poor, making it a challenging task to educate people on the issues at stake and to introduce broad base policies to people who are either on the run or “environmental refugees”.  And despite the best efforts of a community that depended on one another for protection and help, it had remained difficult to overcome the stultifying effects of the droughts. And who doubts that Violence erupts where resources are scanty and where Governments make very little efforts to help the people in need because of corruption and bad governance.

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