Chad: hungry men make perilous journeys for work – Chad
World Food Program aims to make staying in hometowns a better option than risking exploitation in northern gold mines
In the central provinces of Chad, migration is traditionally less a last resort than a way of life. For centuries, during the dry season, herders have moved to the wetlands and pastures around Lake Chad and into the south of the country.
When the rains came, they crossed in areas which now fall under the borders of neighboring countries, to sell their cattle at higher prices.
However, getting around is no longer so easy, with borders being closed to contain armed groups that thrive on the country’s fringes.
There are also tensions between pastoralists and farmers, sparked by concerns such as dry pastures, when and how much it will rain.
The cattle – camels and cows – still need to eat and drink, and they manage to do so on the lands of sedentary farmers through the Sahel, this vast strip of Africa stretching south of the Sahara Desert between the Atlantic Ocean and the Red Sea.
In the absence of jobs and conflicts over resources, leaving is the only option for many; young men venture into the desert, to the unruly north, attracted by the prospect of working in the mines.
For Chad, a landlocked country out of 16.4 million people – where the World Food Program provides assistance to 2.4 million – is a producer of gold. Outlaws, traffickers and non-state armed groups that control mines are able to recruit desperate men, some of whom venture even further north into Libya.
“I paid 125,000 francs [nearly US$243] to cross the border, ”explains Amine, a young man from one of the central provinces of Chad. “I have a diploma, but I couldn’t find a job, so I wanted to go to Europe.
“ I sent my parents money every month, but it was just enough to buy a few bars of soap ”
“We were 22 men in a van and we only had one meal a day. We were often hit by officers at roadblocks, but they allowed us to pass. They are in cahoots with the traffickers. ”
Amine traveled to the town of Zawiya on the Libyan coast, where he worked for eight months in a store. He couldn’t earn enough to cross the Mediterranean and decided to return to Chad, where his family was waiting for him. It now supports the joint efforts of the International Organization for Migration and the World Food Program (WFP) to both raise awareness of the risks of migration and promote economic opportunities in the Sahel.
“In Batha province, there is only one harvest per year, which is sometimes lost due to flash floods. When someone comes and tells a farmer that he can find a job in the north, he doesn’t think too much about it – he gets into debt and leaves, ”says Amine. “I tell other men about the dangers I have encountered, but to keep them here they need training and jobs.”
“We are aware of the dangers but take the risk of leaving anyway,” says Yacoub, a 30-year-old man who worked for three years in illegal gold mines in the far north of Chad’s Tibesti region. -western part of the country, with two friends. “I know someone who won 80 million francs [around US$150,000] and that prompted us to try too, ”he adds.
His companions entered Libya and he has not heard from them since. “My dad advised me not to go further north, so when my friends left, I was alone and came home,” he says.
Yacoub wanted to take care of his aging parents and start a family of his own, but his province, Guéra, is prone to food shortages and there are no decent jobs for rural youth. “Before I looked for gold in Tibesti, I had worked as a baker and as a construction worker,” he says. “I sent my parents money every month, but it was only enough to buy a few bars of soap.”
Once back from the mine, he feared he would become another mouth to feed for his family.
“The village was different when I returned – people had organized themselves to produce food, plant trees and renovate houses,” he explains. “If they can grow food to eat and sell, they don’t need to risk their lives in the north. They can stay here.
Yacoub’s home country is one of more than 200 villages in Chad where WFP works to empower people to become self-reliant. By ensuring sufficient availability of resources, such as food, water and firewood, WFP lays the foundation for income-generating activities, preventing people from risking their lives while migrating.
Last year, WFP promoted sustainable livelihoods for 84,000 people in nine provinces of the country.
Ouaddis of hope
In the west of the country, meeting people from the Kanembou community means venturing off the beaten track into white sand landscapes dotted with small oases. Known as the ouaddis, these solitary oases are the only source of life in the backyard of Lake Chad.
Adam waters corn plants in the Koumbagri wadi, not far from Mao’s town, where the women sell the yield every week at the market.
“Some of my relatives and I have been to the north several times,” he says. “Up there you are an easy target for all kinds of criminals and life is extremely hard. You work long hours in the sun, it’s hot ”- temperatures sometimes exceed 45 degrees Celsius -“ and there is little water to drink ”.
Ali Abderahman, the local traditional chief who owns the waddi and has lent it to the community for an initial period of five years, leans on his cane: “I have been here for over 60 years and this is the first time. that all our men are here. They are back because they can exploit the ouaddi. By all working together, we can produce more and we grow new foods, which have higher prices and good demand in the local market, ”he explains.
“We all need to make solid investments to tackle the structural causes of hunger and malnutrition in the Sahel. It is important to ensure that families are able to meet their basic needs on their own and that young people can envision a future, ”said Claude Jibidar, WFP country director in Chad. “If we fail to do this, we will continue to face frequent food crises, conflicts will escalate and more people will travel north, risking their lives in the desert. It would be very dangerous in the midst of the political transition in Chad, and we must not allow that to happen.