Disaster Relief Journal: Day 5

Disaster relief workers
Disaster relief workers

I’m battling a round of the flu.  After so much traveling, I finally got out to the field today and was dismayed to feel myself coming down with an aching fever and a very sore throat, taking away much of the enjoyment of the day.

We work in 3 disaster relief camps for Chadians who’ve been chased from their homes.  They official term for them is Internally Displaced People or (IDPs).  We are also starting working in a camp for Sudanese refugees.  So we spent most of the day looking at the various physical structures we’ve built, discussing successes and failures, what more needs to be done, what’s worth investing more in and what’s not…

Pretty much everyone has heard of the Sahara Desert, but few have heard of the Sahel.  This is the band along the southern edge of the Sahara that transitions from desert to the greener “sub-Saharan Africa” that most people picture when they hear the name “Africa”.

The continent is amazingly varied, both by climate and by traditions.  Each country is very different from its neighbors.  The Sahel is where the desert “Arabic” cultures meet up with the more “African” cultures.  It is also where the Muslim and Christian worlds meet.  Goz Beida is right on the line between these two worlds and is where I’m doing my disaster relief work.

Not far north of here, it is mainly Arab animal herders (pastoralists).  Not far south, it is majority Christian farmers.  Here on the line, people depend usually on a combination of farming and animals though their animals were stolen as they fled their villages and they now have very little access to their farm land, risking rape and murder just to farm their fields.

A water catchment system outside of an IDP camp
A water catchment system outside of an IDP camp

We get rain here pretty heavily for about 3 months of the year, and then nothing the other 9 months.  It is a very fragile environment and can only support a very scattered population, so when wars create concentrations like these IDP camps, it really stresses out the local environment.  Much of our work is designed to keep people alive while protecting the environment.  We’re building large rainwater catchment systems to add to the water table and to water the animals that haven’t been looted, helping to reforest (to counteract the huge amount of trees being cut for firewood) and similar stuff.  Disaster relief is hard on a lot of things.

Because we’re so far out in the middle of no-where, farming and herding animals is about the only way for most people to earn money or get food, but this is almost impossible when there are so many people living in one such remote place.  So we’re also working to build up the local economy and help people get work while cutting back on their expenses.  One of the things we’re doing is to help install mills to reduce the cost of grinding their grain into edible flour.  We’re doing other stuff too, but these were the things we were visiting yesterday – the mills, rainwater catchment systems and reforestation projects.

I helped to get this project started last year and hired most of the initial staff, so I already know most of them.  It was great to get to know them again as they proudly showed me all they’ve accomplished, which really is impressive, even to a skeptical, jaded soul like myself.

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