Bringing water and hope to the Sahel.

Rural farmer Chad
Familly of Herta - Chad 
© SOS Sahel International, Hisseine Lol boukar 

For the people of the Sahel, daily life is not just a struggle. It’s a fight for survival. Water - or rather the lack of it - defines their very existence. Water to drink, water for livestock, water for crops, water for cooking. Water dominates their lives: the long daily trek to the nearest well - usually a job for women and children; the increasing conflicts over scarce water resources; and the death and disease that comes from polluted water supplies.

The very name of the Sahel is synonymous with drought, poverty and famine. Home to around fifty million people, the Sahel covers a vast swathe of arid semi-desert stretching 5,500 km from Africa’s Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Red Sea in the east. And sitting right in the centre is Lake Chad, one of the world’s climate change hotspots. The lake has shrunk by 90 percent since 1963, the victim of prolonged droughts, desertification and ever-increasing demands for fresh water. Regional conflicts, political instability and mass migration exacerbate the problem.

It’s against this challenging background that the GCCA+ is investing around €8 million in Chad to help develop a climate-resilient, low carbon economy - and to help combat the chronic food insecurity caused by extreme weather. Take a 4x4 and drive 300 km north of the capital N’Djamena to the Lake Chad basin, and it’s already possible to see the impact this investment is having.

“Access to water has made a huge change in our daily life,” says 31-year-old Hapsita Djimet, one of the nearly 100,000 individuals in the sub-prefectures of Doum-Doum, Ngouri and Liwa who are benefitting from a project to install rainwater tanks. “Now we have these poly tanks to keep clean water in, it’s made a big difference to our health. There’s been a marked decrease in waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea. Before the infrastructure was put in place, we women had to get water from the borehole, which is several kilometres from the village. That water was unfit for drinking but we had no choice. But today, we are provided with drinking water every day."

Chad is one of the world’s leading producers of acacia gum, and 45-year-old gum collector Mahamat Adam is another to benefit from the programme. Before the water storage tanks were built, he had to travel around 20 km to fetch water. “Today, we can spend more time collecting gum and less time fetching water,” says Mahamat. “Our work conditions are much better, and we are better organised. Now we can devote ourselves fully to gathering of gum.”

The EU funded GCCA+ project has brought implementing partners , including SOS Sahel, to work closely on the ground,. They’ve identified some of the poorest and most vulnerable households and are working with them to improve their food security and reduce their malnutrition by becoming more climate resilient.

In the village of Djigdada, 35-year-old market gardener Herta Mbodou struggles to bring up her three children whilst trying to grow vegetables on a small plot in the wadi - a dry, sandy ravine prone to sudden flooding in the rainy season. “For decades now, we have suffered from drought,” says Herta. “It’s just not possible to grow enough food to feed my family. It is a constant struggle and the yields are very low.”

But with the help of SOS Sahel and through the GCCA+ project, Herta has been given access to a larger plot of land to cultivate, and a modern water pump to irrigate it, replacing the traditional chadouf - or pole and bucket - which has been used in the Sahel since the days of the pharaohs. “Since the project started, I have been given training on how to use and maintain the irrigation equipment and how to plant different crops such as okra, garlic, onions and tomatoes which are more resilient to drought,” she says.

Moisture stress is one of the greatest threats to vegetables, but okra is thought to have been cultivated by the Egyptians as far back as the twelfth century, and can grow in the hot soil of the Sahel. New varieties of tomato, with succulent leaves which retain moisture, are also proving easier to grow. Combined with the new irrigation pump, the future for Herta’s market garden looks brighter. “When they have been harvested I’ll be able to sell them to support my family,” she says.

Links:

  • Chad’s route to a climate-resilient economy (report) http://www.gcca.eu/news-and-events/news-flash/chads-route-to-a-climate-resilient-economy
  • Climate change adaptation and renewable energy development in Chad http://www.gcca.eu/national-programmes/africa/gcca-chad
  • Drought-resistant crop https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Dr_Shashank_S_Solankey/publication/259017486_Breeding_for_drought_tolerance_in_vegetables/links/00b4952b1312bba401000000.pdf