Families take shade for the harsh sun as they wait to be seen by doctors at a Concern mobile clinic in the Lake Chad region. Some of these families walk for hours to reach healthcare. Concern are the only NGO providing these services in the region. Photo: Gavin Douglas/Concern WorldwideFamilies take shade for the harsh sun as they wait to be seen by doctors at a Concern mobile clinic in the Lake Chad region. Some of these families walk for hours to reach healthcare. Concern are the only NGO providing these services in the region. Photo: Gavin Douglas/Concern WorldwideFamilies take shade for the harsh sun as they wait to be seen by doctors at a Concern mobile clinic in the Lake Chad region. Some of these families walk for hours to reach healthcare. Concern are the only NGO providing these services in the region. Photo: Gavin Douglas/Concern Worldwide

Chad: where an unforgiving climate meets conflict

Chad: where an unforgiving climate meets conflict
Story29 July 2021Lucy Bloxham

Landlocked and located in central Africa is perhaps one of the lesser-known Sahelian countries: Chad. It is also a country where 5.5 million people - or nearly one in three people - need urgent humanitarian assistance.

An unforgiving climate

With a tropical climate in the south and desert in the north, Chad’s topography varies from broad, arid plains, to vast deserts and mountainous peaks. The weather is predominantly hot and dry and the country suffers from periodic droughts, floods and locust plagues. Chad is particularly impacted by climate change which is exacerbating desertification and may be contributing, in addition to overuse, to altering water levels in Lake Chad: a large, freshwater lake situated at the conjunction of Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Niger.

A tributary of Lake Chad. This water is saline so it has very little use other than for fishing in. It also provides another obstacle for Concern staff as they try reach the most remote communities in Chad. Photo: Gavin Douglas/Concern Worldwide
A tributary of Lake Chad. This water is saline so it has very little use other than for fishing in. It also provides another obstacle for Concern staff as they try reach the most remote communities in Chad. Photo: Gavin Douglas/Concern Worldwide

Since the mid-20th century, temperatures in Chad have been increasing while rainfall is decreasing. Temperature is rising one-and-a-half times faster than the global average [Down to Earth]. Lake Chad, once one of Africa’s largest freshwater bodies and a source of livelihood for about 30 million people, shrunk by 90% between 1960s and the 1990s due to overuse, mismanagement and climate change. About 10.6 million people living in the Lake Chad area are in need of humanitarian assistance [Relief Web].

Ongoing conflict and displacement

This challenging context is exacerbated by the fact that the country has been in civil war or conflict for 35 out of the 57 years since it gained independence from France. After 12 years of conflict in the Lake Chad area, the crisis has no end in sight. In 2020, the number of internally displaced people (IDP) in the area doubled to over 450,000, representing about half of the province's population (there were 169,003 IDPs at the end of 2019). Close to 3 million people have been forced to flee their homes across the Lake Chad Basin and lack adequate living conditions, including shelter, clean water and basic hygiene, and by displacing have lost their sources of income which were mainly farming and fishing.

A tributary of Lake Chad. This water is saline so it has very little use other than for fishing in. It also provides another obstacle for Concern staff as they try reach the most remote communities in Chad. Photo: Gavin Douglas/Concern Worldwide
A tributary of Lake Chad. This water is saline so it has very little use other than for fishing in. It also provides another obstacle for Concern staff as they try reach the most remote communities in Chad. Photo: Gavin Douglas/Concern Worldwide

Moreover, since 2017 Chad has hosted the largest number of refugees in relation to its population density in Africa. Between 3 and 4% of the Chadian population is made up of refugees. In addition to these refugees, Chad also hosts numerous returnees who fled to Sudan (Darfur), the Central African Republic, Cameroon and Nigeria during different periods and are now back in Chad. The areas bordering these countries, already characterised by extreme vulnerability, are all affected by these population movements. 

A worsening situation

Most people living in Chad were already contending with high poverty rates, lack of basic services like education and healthcare, and the devastating impact of climate change. But the ever-changing climate and conflict has dramatically worsened the situation, amplifying food and nutritional insecurity in the region. The intense heat and erratic rainfall mean food often doesn’t grow. Conflict has closed borders, which has impacted on beef exports, a major source of income for the country. Work opportunities have dried up because of the ongoing conflict, and the small sums people earn by doing odd jobs are simply not enough. A drop in world oil prices, as well as Covid-19 has also severely affected the fragile economy and the trading of goods, with families being pushed deeper into poverty. Chad was ranked a shocking 187 of 189 countries in the UNDP 2020 Human Development Index. 1.8 million people do not have enough to eat, with children under five most at risk. 

What we’re doing to help

A Concern medical staff member distributes medication to a mother who has brought her child to be seen. The most common ailments are skin conditions, malaria and malnutrition. Photo: Gavin Douglas/Concern Worldwide
A Concern medical staff member distributes medication to a mother who has brought her child to be seen. The most common ailments are skin conditions, malaria and malnutrition. Photo: Gavin Douglas/Concern Worldwide

We are responding to the humanitarian needs of displaced populations in the Lake Chad area, implementing health and nutrition programmes to deliver life-saving assistance, improving access to clean drinking water and sanitation, and helping people with alternative sources of food and income such as vegetable gardening adapted to local conditions. There are no roads in certain areas of Chad, including Lake Chad – just sand and scrub trees. Our mobile clinics can reach children and families in these remote places. Without them, parents would have to carry their children long distances, sometimes even a day’s walk, to reach a clinic.

Help bring life-saving treatment to children who need it most.

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