Chad: Changes in Climate Limit Resources For Refugees

By Camilla Olson
Since the creation of the Ken and Darcy Bacon Center for the Study of Climate Displacement, I’ve thought about how displacement caused by climate change fits with the long-term focus of Refugees International -- to advocate for solutions to displacement crises caused by conflicts. 

For the past few years, the headlines have been full of stories of natural disasters –cyclones, tsunamis, earthquakes – brought on by climate change, that have uprooted thousands of people from there homes and caused major humanitarian crises.

But climate change can also lead to conflict and displacement because of the impact it has in certain parts of the world on people’s economic livelihoods and population movements.  Refugees International’s acting president Joel Charny touches on this very point in a recent interview he did on CNN.   

While climate change will certainly continue to create new displacement, it will also impact those who are already displaced, and who find themselves living in refugee camps or displacement sites in deteriorating conditions. 

I witnessed this in particular during an assessment mission I took to Chad this past May.  Some say the conflict in the neighboring Darfur region of Sudan was sparked partly by a fight over resources, and having visited the refugee camps on the other side of the border in Chad, I can certainly see how getting access to basic needs such as water and firewood are constant challenges in such a dry, deserted place.

Many of the refugees I met with, in particular the women, told us that fights often broke out in the camp around the water point – especially if there was no water that day or the pump is broken.  Others described tensions between the local population and the refugees when they go outside the camps to look for firewood, which is very scarce.

While eastern Chad has always been a challenging place to live, climate change and desertification is contributing to the increasing lack of basic resources, which in turn is creating more tensions in communities, especially those hosting refugee populations.

As we forge ahead with our work on climate displacement at Refugees International, it will be important not only to highlight the humanitarian fallout from natural disasters – but also to think about how those populations we are already concerned about continue to be negatively affected by the changing global climate.