A flare-up of intermunicipal fighting in northern Cameroon has forced tens of thousands of people to flee and stopped aid operations there, the UN refugee agency UNHCR announced on Friday.
The development is just the latest episode in the difficult relationship between the region’s shepherds, fishermen and farmers, who saw the waters and tributaries of Lake Chad shrink dramatically due to the drought caused by climate change.
In Geneva, UNHCR spokesman Boris Cheshirkov stated that clashes had occurred in the village of Ouloumsa in the past few days. after a dispute over dwindling water resources.
The violence then spread to neighboring villages, leaving 10 villages that burned to the ground.
“UNHCR is deeply concerned about renewed inter-municipal clashes that broke out this week in the far north of Cameroon, displacing thousands within the country and displacing more than 30,000 people to neighboring Chad, ”said Cheshirkov. “Since Sunday, December 5th, at least 22 people have been killed and another 30 seriously injured during the fighting lasting several days.”
Three days later, on December 8th, fighting broke out in the Cameroonian city of Kousseri, a trade center with 200,000 inhabitants, according to UNHCR.
In addition to the destruction of the cattle market, Cheshirkov noted that “at least 10,000 people from Kousseri fled to the Chadian capital, N’djamena … just a few kilometers across the Chari and Logone rivers, which mark the border with Cameroon”.
8 out of 10 refugees are women and children
The UNHCR official found that eight out of ten new arrivals were women – many of whom are pregnant – and children. “They have found refuge in N’Djamena and villages on the banks of the Logone River in Chad,” Cheshirkov told journalists during a planned briefing.
The UN agency also welcomed Chad’s hospitality to the newcomers, despite the fact that nearly a million refugees and internally displaced people are already living there.
Working with the authorities, Mr Cheshirkov said that UN agencies and partners “are rushing to provide emergency shelter and assistance to the Cameroonian refugees”.
In the far north of Cameroon, security forces had been deployed to the affected areas, but the UNHCR spokeswoman stated that the situation was “volatile” and that UNHCR was being forced to suspend its operations there.
In August, the agency reported an initial outbreak of intermunicipal violence in Cameroon, killing 45 people and forcibly displacing 23,000, of whom 8,500 remained in Chad.
In addition to providing emergency aid, UNHCR and the authorities have been making reconciliation efforts in Kousseri, Cameroon, since last week.
As a result, community representatives have pledged to end the violence. “But Without urgent action to address the root causes of the crisis, the situation could escalate further“Claimed Mr. Cheshirkov.
“What we are seeing is intermunicipal tensions between the farmers and fishermen on the one hand and them and Muslim fishermen and farmers and then the Arab traders.
“The main reason these tensions have broken and worsened is climate changebecause they depend on the waters of the Logone River, which is one of the main tributaries of Lake Chad; Lake Chad has been shrinking for six decades now, it has lost 95 percent of its surface water. ”
So far this year, the UNHCR’s appeals for donations to support the most vulnerable people in Chad and Cameroon have only received around 50 percent funding.
An international responsibility
In addition to the $ 99.6 million required for operations in Cameroon and $ 141 million for Chad, UNHCR appealed to the international community for much more assistance to help developing countries get in touch adjust the type of climate shocks that are behind the crises the agency is increasingly responding to.
The need is particularly great in the nearby Sahel, where countries like Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso are experiencing temperature increases caused by climate change that are 1.5 times faster than the global average, said Cheshirkov.
“The climate crisis is a human crisis; we see it in the Sahel, we see it in the far north of Cameroon, we see it in East Africa, in the drought corridor of Latin America, we see it in South Asia, so many parts of the world where we have displaced communities. In fact, 90 percent of the refugees come from climate-endangered hot spots. ”