Fair access to water and firewood are big motivators in rebellions in Chad, Central African Republic and the Darfur region of Sudan, according to Alain Lapierre, a manager with aid group CARE International.
Indeed, these two things are never far from the minds of the 18,000 North Darfuri refugees in Iridima and the original residents of the nearby town of Iriba. Both vital resources were in short supply even before the Darfur conflict sent 250,000 refugees streaming into eastern Chad. Now they’re being consumed faster than Mother Nature can replenish them – and shifting weather patterns are taking their toll, too.
Despite desperate efforts by international aid groups, local authorities estimate that at current rates the wood will run out next year. Water might soon follow. To conserve resources, CARE has all sort of projects underway that I’ll get into later. Point is, even if the major combat in Darfur, Chad and Central African Republic stopped tomorrow, the region’s humanitarian crisis might continue to worsen for years.
The implications are huge for the new EUFOR peacekeeping force still deploying to eastern Chad. They’re job is to protect refugees and aid workers. It’s a job that won’t be getting any easier as competition over resources gets meaner.
On Wednesday Anne and I ditched our comfy digs at the CARE compound and headed across Iriba to the new Polish-Irish-French base outside town. The wind picked up, a sure sign of a coming thunderstorm. As we rolled through the berm past the Irish guards, a gust plucked a tent belong to some Belgian special forces right off the ground and dropped it on a row of French tents (pictured).
“Your timing is impeccable,” said an Irish guard, gesturing to engineers scrambling to grab the wayward tent. The special forces were out on a mission, and when they returned an hour later, the Polish major in charge of the base put on his most diplomatic grin and went over to explain why their tent had disappeared.
This operation is pretty austere compared to most British and American deployments. The two platoons here are still in tents in a small razor-wire-ringed compound while the engineers build a bigger, more permanent base next door, relying on regular ground convoys and the adjacent airstrip for materials delivery. The tents rest on bare earth teeming with scorpions and spiders. When you go to the trench that stands in for a proper latrine, you literally piss into the wind.
But there is a bar with $8 beers, and the chow tonight was hot and good, so it could be worse.