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When the cattle die, so does wealth

June 15, 2010

[Source: a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs]

In rural Chad cattle are currency, the down-payment on ceremonies, a savings plan during sickness and emergency food in lean times. So the loss of an estimated one-third of the country’s livestock to drought has been a disaster, with desperate pastoralists trying to make it until the next rains as best they can.

“I have been a herder for 30 years and I do not remember things ever being this bad – not even during the 1970s droughts,” Al Hadj Ali Mbodou told IRIN at the weekly cattle market in Mao, 300km north of the capital, N’Djamena.

Of 100 cows he had in 2009, 70 have died from lack of water and food. “There used to be trees the animals could rest under; now there is no more shade … I live from these animals,” he said.

“Trees can mean life when you are in the desert – when they die, other parts of the desert follow,” said Hassan Térap, Chad’s environment minister. To hold back the advancing desert the government has begun planting a 40km belt of trees, starting from N’Djamena, which it intends extending into a 1,000km green barrier.

A government survey found that the 2009 drought shrivelled pasture, dried up water sources, and killed 780,000 cattle worth US$460 million. It also cut the cereal harvest by 34 percent compared to 2008, throwing two million people who would normally be living off the land into the “at-risk” category.

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