Climate change hits Central African Republic in its border zones

Forces from MISCA, the African Union-led peacekeeping mission, guard the Catholic church in Carnot, Central African Republic as a herd of goats walks past. (Credit: Keystone)

Part II of our "Rain to Dust" series based on the new ICRC report on climate and war, zooms into the ways climate change is exacerbating conflict in the Central African Republic.

While the Central African Republic has so far escaped the direct effects of climate-induced drought and desertification, climate changes happening along its borders are promoting herders from neighboring Chad, Sudan, and Cameroon to encroach more frequently into farming communities in CAR, exacerbating civil violence in an already conflict-ridden region. In the final part of our ‘"Rain to Dust” series, following last week’s story on the report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on climate and war, and our closeup on Mali, we talked to Ibrahima Bah, Head of Economic Security for ICRC in Bangui, CAR.

What is the political situation in Central African Republic?

The CAR is in a pre-election situation. The security situation in some areas is very volatile and very worrying in the north-west, north-east and centre of the country.

How does climate change impact CAR?

Problems related to climate change such as scarcity of rainfall, drought, and desertification are not yet observed in CAR as in the Sahel. We have regular rainfall, seasonal variations, no drought either, but occasional floods (in Bangui, Bambari, Lobaye). What is striking is that CAR is experiencing the phenomenon of transhumance [seasonal movement of herders], an indirect result of climate change in the neighbouring countries of Chad, Sudan, and Cameroon.

What are the consequences?

The scarcity of resources in neighbouring countries, a direct consequence of climate change, means that the CAR is becoming a dumping ground for animals from outside for part of the year, causing competition for water and grazing land.

Which communities are most affected?

The transhumance-affected border regions of Cameroon and Chad in the north-west and Sudan in the north-east (prefectures of Nana Gribizi, Ouaham, Ouaham Pende, Nana Mambere, Mambere Kadei, Bamingui Bagora), which are also occupied by armed groups, and the centre affected by internal transhumance (prefectures of Ouaka, basse Koto et Haute Koto).

How does transhumance affect the stability of the country?

In terms of land tenure, the pressure is very strong. There are inter-community tensions between pastoralists - theft of livestock between pastoralists and armed groups - and farmers. When external herds mix with those of semi-nomadic internal herds, there is a risk of livestock theft, destruction of crop fields, and disease transmission. The movement of armed transhumant pastoralists means that local communities dare not go into the bush for hunting, fishing, or gathering for fear of being attacked. Yet these resources are a very important means of subsistence for them.

Who are the most vulnerable populations?

The whole population of these areas because farmers' fields are destroyed, herders' animals are stolen: 80% of the CAR’s population practices animal husbandry and agriculture. Destruction of agricultural production, lack of access to fertile land for fear of extortion. Many [CAR farmers] resign themselves to practice agriculture around their villages on less fertile land, which impacts the production and the food supply of the population. According to estimates, [food] production has declined by one-half since 2010. Half of the CAR population (about 6 million people) is in need of humanitarian aid.

What is the ICRC doing to relieve these populations and find solutions to these problems?

Our integrated actions are carried out in the fields of economic security, health, protection and prevention, and water and habitat. My department supports agricultural production - agro-pastoral farming concerns 80% of the population of CAR. We distribute improved short-cycle food crops and vegetable seeds (adapted to climate change: more limited rainfall and sometimes with erratic cycles). We strengthen the capacities of farmers through training on technical itineraries to increase production and in respect of the environment. For example, we explain to them not to cultivate on slopes, to reduce cultivation on burnt land, to sow in rows, to facilitate maintenance work, and to respect rotation (so that fields can lie fallow). We support local seed production in collaboration with the Institut de Recherche Agronomique and the Office National des Semences. In the livestock sector, in order to cope with the risks of diseases linked to transhumance, we vaccinate and treat local herds. Finally, to compensate for the weakness of the state structure in certain areas, we are setting up pharmaceutical depots, training communities in animal health, and creating networks between them. We always accompany our activities with awareness-raising campaigns, to promote social cohesion between farmers and livestock breeders and ease tensions.

CAR may still be considered an emergency situation, but are these ICRC resilience operations increasingly the norm with climate change?

When there are attacks or population displacements, we intervene to deliver food to meet urgent and life-saving needs. My department, Economic Security, is not only concerned with emergencies; we have to think about the future of the lives we are saving. Within the displaced populations, there are farmers and herders who need to resume production. We do not want to create dependency, so we combine emergency response with [initiatives promoting] resilience.