When the desert becomes flooded: climate change in Chad
Chad is a Sahelian country of arid land, extreme temperatures and… floods.
When one pictures a dry area such as the Sahel, flooding is unlikely to be the first image that comes to mind. But arid and desertic landscapes are prime candidates for flooding; sand and dry land do not readily absorb water during heavy rains, meaning they quickly become flooded.
Climate change exacerbates weather variability, meaning droughts and floods are increasing. No country is immune to climate change, but a country’s preparedness - or lack thereof - will determine its level of vulnerability during climate-related extreme weather events. Chad's geography makes it particularly fragile. It is one of the world’s most environmentally degraded countries, particularly its western, northern and eastern provinces, where temperature increases are projected to be 1.5 times higher than in the rest of the world.
As with the rest of the Sahel, Chad experienced severe droughts in the 1970s and 1980s. However, annual rainfall has increased since the 1990s.
Last year’s rainy season was marked by record rainfall in most of Chad and across the Sahel. Floods affected 20 out of 23 provinces and 388,000 people, mainly in the central, eastern and southern provinces.
Floods displaced hundreds of thousands of people and ruined affected households’ food stocks (especially cereals). In addition, hundreds of thousands of hectares of cultivated land were destroyed, thousands of cattle were washed away, and storekeepers’ supplies were damaged or destroyed in flooded markets.
In N’Djaména, the Tradex site was originally intended to accommodate 98 households (about 562 people). But by the end of the rainy season, it hosted 16,375 flood-displaced people, 61 per cent of whom were children. Following the collapse of a river dike in the capital in October 2020, thousands of people flocked to Tradex seeking shelter. Humanitarian needs at the site grew exponentially overnight.
Every day, this elderly lady would walk around the site, scrape people’s lunch leftovers and use them to feed her goats, which she rescued from the floods along with a few household items.
The 2020 floods also affected education. After losing their homes and belongings in the floods, many parents had to survive by using the savings meant for their children’s education.
Zeinab (right) is one of the thousands of people displaced by the floods in N’Djaména in 2020. They washed away her home and all her belongings, including identity documents and school certificates. She had no choice but to rent a room, which she shared with her four children and relatives. To pay for the room, she had to use the money she had saved for her children’s education.
Many children were forced to start their school year later, as their schools were occupied by displaced people due to the shortage of available shelters needed to host flood-affected people.
In 2021, Chad experienced its worst lean season in nine years, which has negatively affected agricultural and pasture production. Most of the country’s agricultural production depends on the rains, which are strongly affected by climate change, and temperature increases can increase the severity of pests and crop diseases, which are more vulnerable due to water- and heat-related stress. This reduces agricultural production and causes farmers to abandon certain crops due to a lack of solutions. It is therefore imperative to support vulnerable households in developing shock-resistant food and nutritional systems.
Bagarine, a small locality 5 kms from Abéché, in Ouaddai Province, has become the testing ground for community development in the region. It hosts a learning centre for agricultural practices geared towards improving access, availability, and the use and stability of food in the area.
Thanks to these new practices, fresh produce can be grown year round. Cultivating vegetables in subsoil allows for three harvest cycles per year (one every four months), whereas traditional agriculture follows regular seasons and therefore allows only one harvest per year.
The World Food Programme runs the Integrated Resilience Technologies and Training Centre (INTEREST) in Bagarine, bringing together 10 local villages to learn and implement farming practices that are profitable and environmentally sound, and which enhance social cohesion.
A land tenure agreement is now in place, enabling six local farming cooperatives to test new techniques that they can replicate in their communities. The women photographed above work for one of the farming cooperatives.
Thanks to a comprehensive approach that gives the community control over food assistance for assets, nutrition and school meals, INTEREST is making a positive impact on food systems in the area. At the same site, UNICEF runs complementary nutrition-related activities that benefit children and pregnant women in six neighbouring villages.