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The perfect storm that precedes hunger


“We left the village because we were afraid that Boko Haram would come to loot it and kill us. Between grandparents, uncles and in-laws, we are almost 40 people. We walked for ten days to reach Kaya, ”explains Hawa Kali. They fled shortly after the deadliest attack on Chadian soil by Boko Haram, which killed 100 people in March. “Last week, we had to leave Kaya too, because there was nothing to eat. We lost the harvest because of the rain ”.

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Hawa Kali was displaced the first time by conflict and the second time by a natural disaster in just seven months. He tells me his story in the waning shadow cast by his clearly improvised straw hut. His words reveal what Lake Chad is today, one of the most complex humanitarian crises of our time.

There are abandoned settlements dotted throughout the region, with only the skeletons of huts like Hawa Kali’s, remnants of wind-torn tarps and blue plastic bags tangled in the bushes. Lake families are constantly looking for a quiet place where there is something to eat. They only leave their trace.

In the past year, the number of internally displaced persons on the Chadian shore of Lake Chad has risen from 169,000 to 297,000, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Together and scrambled, environmental degradation and terrorism continue to exacerbate hunger and malnutrition. Displaced people, refugees and increasingly indigenous people depend on the food baskets distributed by the United Nations World Food Program to survive.

Mariam has lived her entire life in Bol, the main lakeside town in Chad. “It is not easy to feed children several times a day, but I do everything I can so that they at least have a nutritious and vitamin-rich lunch.” Neither she nor her husband work and their seven-month-old daughter suffers from malnutrition. “Without Boko Haram it was already difficult to earn a living here, but now there are many more people.”

The climate is increasingly indecipherable for the inhabitants of Lake Chad

At the health center, dozens of women wait sitting under the trees, cross-legged and babies upside down on their knees. Mariam is one of them. At this time of year, just before harvest, cases of malnutrition skyrocket and many mothers flock to collect nutritional supplements. With more people and fewer resources, community safety nets are on the brink of collapse.

In addition, the climate is increasingly indecipherable for the inhabitants of Lake Chad: sometimes it rains when it should not, the temperature rises until it burns the nostrils and changes the layout of the lake, covering and discovering different islands every day, flooding farmlands and drying up lagoons that are rendered unusable by natron. People like Hawa Kali or Mariam no longer know what to plant or when, if they should risk fishing on the islands – where Boko Haram might hide – or if they should leave the lake once and for all.

It is the fish that bites the tail. On the one hand, the continuous and indiscriminate violence of Boko Haram prevents the inhabitants of the lake from adapting to the new environmental conditions. On the other hand, extreme poverty and hunger caused by the hostile climate push some to join armed groups. In Lake Chad, climate change is one more actor in the war.

Maria Gallar Sánchez He is responsible for communication for the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) in Chad. Her NUTRIDAS campaign, with the support of humanitarian aid from the European Union, brings us the stories of four women who fight against malnutrition in this African country.

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