Lake Chad, once the sixth-largest lake in the world, has shrunk by more than 90 percent over the last 40 years. 20 million people faced dislocation and starvation as farmlands and livelihoods disappeared. For them, the combined impact of climate change and water mismanagement created a crisis that was unimaginable, and they joined the millions of others who face chronic poverty and food shortages in West Africa’s Sahel Region.
Despite the high food prices, drought and constant conflict plaguing the region, Africare has helped ease the burden of poverty and has created a chance for the people in Eastern Chad to flourish by building water retention structures, through the Batha and Ouaddaï Food Security Initiative (BOFSI) project. Five dams were constructed in Eastern Chad: Matar, Tarbaka, Facha, Moudaba and Terkémé, in the region known as Ouaddaï. The structures have resulted in availability of water for half of the year for use in both household consumption and crop fortification.
“In a recent report, Les McBride, the program manager of USAID/Food for Peace Program and the donor of this project, observed that the dams, some dry for 15 years, now repaired are able to provide water half of the year to surrounding areas. These sources are now acting as a water hole for livestock, allowing famers the time required to harvest their longer-cycle sorghum crops and enabling farmers to grow crops that they have never been able to before,” says Binta Cissé, Senior Program Manager, Africare.
Sorghum is considered the fifth-most important cereal crop grown in the world and is a staple in the average Chadian's diet.
One particular area has prospered significantly since the erection of the dams. The Facha dam, constructed in 2004, is the third-largest structure built in the region, with a maximum holding capacity of 560,000 cubic meters, and is benefiting over 400 farmers on 200 hectares of land.
Before the dam was built, the neighboring villages did not have access to water during the dry season – the women had to walk over seven miles one way to fetch water. Today, the 12 surrounding villages not only have access to water, but also the opportunity to grow diversified crops – crops that before would never have been able to survive during the dry season. Produce such as tomatoes, lettuce, millet and even watermelon, a fruit first introduced by Africare in 2000, are harvested and sold in the markets year-round.
According to Facha villagers, the dam has also improved their diet and the nutritional status of their children due to the now year-round availability of vegetables and the inclusion of new crops in their meals.
Since the construction of the dams, the water table has risen – providing a presence of water in the wells. This allows farmers to cultivate and store recessional sorghum and vegetables in the off-season, providing them a “safety net” in the event that the area’s highly erratic rainfall results in a decrease in harvest numbers.
22,000 households now benefit from the water surplus created by the Facha dam as they utilize irrigation systems and motor operated pumps to draw water from the wells. This has considerably strengthened food security and the resilience of households. According to the Food Security Committee, a community-based structure instituted by Africare-Chad, the net income generated from the dam’s off-season crop production is about $400 per household, which is equivalent to 13 sacks of millet or the cultivation of 2.5-3 hectares of the crop in a good rainfall year.
Because of the revenue obtained from the sale of off-season crops, the Facha Dam beneficiaries no longer need to sell their millet to survive. With this surplus of food, the villagers created a food bank. This bank is able to lend sacks of millet to vulnerable households and store stacks for emergency purposes during the dry season.
Earlier this year, during the process of maintaining the dam, a fortuitous happenstance occurred – the villagers reported a presence of freshwater fish in the dam
“Fish is considered a luxury in Abeche, the capital of Ouaddaï region. This source of protein will add another significant contribution to the livelihood of the villagers of the Facha Dam; they will be able to create a life where they are prepared in any situation – drought or flood,” adds Al-Hassana Outman, Country Director, Africare-Chad.
The Batha and Ouaddaï Food Security Initiative (BOFSI) project has enabled the residents of Eastern Chad to create sustainable lives. It is Africare’s goal to train the villagers in surrounding areas to maintain the dams themselves, so that they can become as self-sufficient as the Facha Dam residents of Eastern Chad.
This blog was submitted by Africare. Photo: Nicole Eley.
This blog is part of a series in recognition of the UN's International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, Oct. 17.