A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
Finding people you’ve met before can be difficult especially if people who have been living in camps then leave to go home.
Often people ask me if I’ve met x again or what happened to y and frequently it’s part of our donor requirements to follow a few of the same people and report back on what happened to them – but most of all I want to know what happened. Earlier I’d tried to find three men I’d met in early September… the bad news was that I couldn’t but the good news was that they had gone home, though I’m not sure to what.
Razia was a young woman I’d met receiving a check at an Oxfam cash distribution. She’d been living in one of the schools with her two children. Knowing that people had left the schools I thought there was little chance of finding her – especially when we heard that she’d gone back to her village, which could be anywhere. After some investigation and good will on the part of Oxfam and partner PDI, Participatory Development Initiatives, her name was found on a list of one of the villages where we were following people to continue to provide support – and her village, Sevro, wasn’t too far away.
Sleeping outsideRazia's home is just a pile of rubble.
There’s little left of Razia’s village. The fields are still flooded, barely a house remains standing. A few walls here and there, but none complete. Razia’s home has gone – just a pile of rubble. Razia and her children are sleeping outside as yet they have no shelter. “We returned to our village three days ago,” says Razia, “but my children are very little and I’m facing many problems. There is nothing in my village. We have no resources. No houses. No shelter. No latrines. No work.”
Fifty families have returned to Sevro so far – a few others remain in the camps as their homes are still under water. Razia recalls what it was like to return: “When we first arrived and saw our village we started crying and the children started crying… our village had been destroyed, it looked like a graveyard. We’ve tried to build a little shelter but it’s very difficult and the children are crying because we are sleeping under the sky and there are a lot of insects at night biting them.”
Money worriesRazia and her children are sleeping outside.
I asked her how she had spent the money she had received from Oxfam; a small amount intended to support people for a couple of weeks. “After I got the grant I spent all the money on children’s medicine and clothes. All the money was spent quickly, I couldn’t save one Rupee.”
In September Razia had told me that her husband was sick and in a clinic. He’s now recovered but is away. “My husband is in Karachi. He has found some work as a laborer.” What seemed like good news was soon quelled: “But we have too much debt. He is working to repay it but I don’t how he is going to do that… we are facing a lot of worries and we can’t stop thinking about them.” Like thousands of others Razia has lost everything apart from her small family and a few possessions, “Whatever we had like clothes and utensils are all lost… and we have no money whatsoever. The money we are getting is all being used to pay off our debts.”
Debt – a problem for many tenant farmersDebt is a big problem for many tenant farmers like Razia.
Razia has few opportunities to find work as she points out in her final statement, ‘I am just from the village, I didn’t go to school… I have no education.’
For people like Razia, debt is a big problem. Millions of tenant farmers, who were living in poverty even before the floods, are burrowing deeper and deeper into debt as they borrow more to escape the floods, meet their basic daily needs, or to restart their livelihood. Often they are paying on average 10 per cent per month in interest. Many are refused further credit as they have been unable to repay pre-flood debts due to the loss of this year’s harvest. With so many tenant farmers owing money their landlord, there is a great risk that many of the poorest will fall back into bonded labor.
Oxfam, with local partner PDI, is now supporting Razia’s village with cash for work programs for men (to clear rubble) and women (to make quilts), distributing emergency shelter and hygiene kits, while providing water and sanitation and running hygiene promotion programs.
So far, Oxfam has reached more than 1.4 million people with clean water, sanitation kits and hygiene supplies, as well as food and essential household items.
Photos/text: Jane Beesley/Oxfam.
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