Posts Tagged With: Sahel

Just add water.

There are many places on the planet where climate change is being debated. Barza Village in the Far North of Cameroon isn’t one of them.

The beautiful houses of thirsty Barza.

This area in the Sahel area of Africa (the transitional swath of land between the Sahara desert to the north and savanna to the south) has always been hot and dry, with 7 months of scorching heat that often reaches 113 degrees. But in the past 22 years, things have gotten far, far worse for the farmers of L’Extreme Nord.

The grannies remember when rainfall was dependable and water accessible.

Rainfall has decreased from 900 mm to about 400 mm a year. Nearby Lake Chad had a surface area of 25,000 square kilometers in 1970; today its surface area is 2,000 square kilometers. (How did I not know this??) And for the people here in Barza, water has gone from being something that is a challenge to obtain — to something that consumes their entire day, as the people walk back and forth repeatedly to the only source of water, a river 10 kilometers away.

In 2003, Papa Maliki, Barza’s village chief, in desperation started a GIC community group, with the intention of asking for help in ensuring the education of the town’s children and reducing poverty and malnutrition.

But it all starts with water.In 2006, Heifer began to offer assistance with sheep and donkeys (that can carry water) and in 2011, in conjunction with Bethlehem Foundation and the GIC community group, Heifer dug a borehole that would provide clean, potable water to the town — for which the people are indescribably grateful.

The daily queue for precious water at the borehole.

The hole is 55 meters deep, but working 16.5 hours a day it’s already pushing capacity, and every day at noon it must be given 90 minutes to rest and refill. Barza’s borehole is managed by Tabitha Koffa, president of the GIC, and with the water committee, she’s established a system of distribution based on the town quadrants, and a maintenance fund to which everyone contributes in the event the borehole needs repair: $4/year for a family; $2/year for a single person.

Borehole President Tabitha Koffa, with a lot on her mind.

Each of Barza’s 200 families may take (2) 20-liter jugs every other day of the fresh, clean water from the borehole –but it still takes about 150-200 liters of water a day to provide drinking, cooking, washing and animals’ water in these large households. So the women (and men, since Heifer’s gender trainings taught that water collection is not just women’s work) must still walk 5 miles each way to carry questionably safe river water back to their homes.

When I saw the process and drove (not walked) the route, I got enraged. Many philanthropic organizations like charity:water and Dig Deep have called water a basic human right – and when you consider the complete, utter, appalling waste of human capital as people haul water on their heads five miles to home … it makes you wonder what our priorities are. Yes, it’s a government’s job to build the infrastructure that provides water to people’s homes, but it’s a moral crime, in my estimation, for us to allow anyone on this planet to live without water.

One borehole costs @ $15,000. The Far North of Cameroon is estimated to need 11,600 of them. That would cost $174 million – about 40% of what the USA spends on a single F-22 Raptor aircraft.

Politicians can argue all they want about climate change, but the fact remains that we’ve caused the vast majority of it (Americans use 25% of the world’s energy & cause far more of the carbon emissions that are driving up temperatures and wreaking havoc on weather patterns) and poor people in the Sahel are picking up the tab.

Or should I say picking up the 20-liter bottles of unclean water, putting them on their heads, shifting their babies on their back – and walking slowly home.

Categories: Africa, Cameroon, Heifer International, Photography, Poverty, Travel, Water | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

Bienvenue Cameroon!

When I was heading off to Cameroon the most common question I was asked was: “Ummm, where is that?” Cleverly, I’d logged on to Wikipedia where I found this helpful diagram… so now you know!

Cameroon is not a place many people have been, but that doesn’t make it any less fascinating (and to my mind, more so). In fact, this country of 20 million people in a landmass the size of California is a kind of mini-Africa, with every climate represented within its borders: coast, desert, mountains, rainforest and savanna– as well as pretty much all the problems and challenges that beset the continent (and that we Westerners had a big hand in creating).

The extremely dry, extremely beautiful Nord.

In the Far North (or “L’extreme Nord” as the French poetically put it) the land is in the Sahel, the 100- to 600-mile wide swath that stretches across Africa and lies between the Sahara to the north, and the savanna grasslands to the south. This is the poorest part of Cameroon, the least educated, the hottest, the driest and oddly, the most populous, with a population that’s exploded 37% in the last 12 years.

In the south, the land is wet, fertile, and home to equatorial rainforests, rich plantations of timber, bananas, cocoa and rubber, coastal ports, and Cameroon’s biggest trade center in Douala and the capital city of Yaounde. Though the South is primarily Christian and the North has many Muslims, there is religious harmony in Cameroon and a long (though repressive and corrupt) history of political stability since Cameroon gained independence, after 45 years of colonialism, from France and Britain in 1961 – a year I actually remember.

It’s a young country, and although the poverty index is heart-breakingly high (the average income is $538/year – but only $220 in the Far North), the people are filled with energy and purpose. At 6 a.m., the streets are packed with folks of all ages going to work and school, and the place is jumping – no matter where you are.

And naturally, the people of Cameroon are gorgeous.

I wasn’t expecting to love Cameroon – or to get to see so much of it, but luckily we missed our plane the first day (totally not my fault), and so I ended up seeing far more of the country than was originally planned. I found myself mesmerized by both the lush South and the sere Far North, grieved by the wretched poverty I witnessed, and captivated by some of the strangest Heifer livestock projects I’ve ever seen.

It was a beautiful, wild ride – can’t wait to take you there!  

Oh … and I’m a little bit tired of doing all the work on this blog (tee hee!) so here’s my latest offer: You write me one question that you really want answered about Cameroon (or about my biggest travel challenge, or my shoe size, or my worst hotel experience) and I’ll do a whole Readers’ Twenty Questions post with all my responses. Game on!

Categories: Africa, Cameroon, Heifer International, Hunger, Photography, Poverty, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 48 Comments

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