Not enough time

In crisis and conflict regions, it is crucial to get the grassroots economy going again, even at a small scale. Paying people enlisted to build roads can serve that cause. In eastern Chad, appropriate measures to manage seasonal rivers have contributed to stabilising water supply in a region that is torn by a multi-pronged crisis. The example shows that environmental degradation contributes to escalating violence, that sensible policies can make a positive difference, and that disaster relief should operate at longer time spans than only one year, because it is not only about short-term action.

[ By Hannelore Börgel ]

The sun burns mercilessly, dry earth stretches for kilometres along the bumpy dirt roads in eastern Chad. 250,000 Sudanese refugees and 180,000 internally displaced persons live on the Sudanese border. Chad has been waiting for democratic change since independence from France in 1960 – and instead witnessed war, an invasion by Libya and military coups. One authoritarian regime replaced the other. Autocratic presidents mostly ruled with the backing of small, ethnically homogeneous elites.

Today, the armed opposition is made up of at least ten different groups that are at loggerheads with one another. In 2004, the most important parties of the civilian opposition formed an alliance, but they still do not have a political programme. This has enabled President Idriss Déby to enter into tactical alliances with various rebel groups.

Against this background, the EU has been trying to mediate between government and opposition since last year. There was already an agreement which provided for the creation of an electoral roll, establishing an independent electoral commission and setting a mutually agreed parliamentary election date, among other measures. In spring, however, an attempted coup put everything in doubt once again.

Regional tensions have many causes. The elites in Chad and Sudan want to control oil resources, whereas the poor are interested in access to water. Birth rates are high on both sides of the border. Global warming, which results from the use of fossil fuels all over the world, will compound water scarcity in this part of Africa. Some observers hav a already called the Darfur conflict the „first environmental war“ of the 21st century. The term is exaggerated, however, as environmental issues are one, but not the only cause of strife.

Tense security situation

The security situation has deteriorated constantly since 2005. It is a long time since the governments of Sudan and Chad have supported one another in the fight against rebels. Today they are enemies. The Sudanese strategy of destabilising Chad is a reaction to Chad supporting rebels in Darfur. Since the governments support the armed opposition in the respective neighbouring country, the crises of the two countries are closely interlinked. Khartoum wants a military triumph in Darfur – however, this would require a change of regime in N’Djamena. Otherwise, the rebels will keep on enjoying support and space for retreat. After an attempted coup in N’Djamena in February, rebels with backing from Chad advanced into the outskirts of Khartoum in May.

The civilian population in eastern Chad has been repeatedly attacked by Janjaweed militias from Darfur since 2005. At the same time, ethnic-based self-defence groups have established bases near the border on the Chadian side. They have been known to attack other ethnic groups in their own country time and again because of disputes over water and land.

In addition to regional actors such as Libya, Sudan and Egypt, international powers such as France, USA and China are also pursuing interests in the region. Oil was found in the south of Chad in 2003, and there are reports of new oil fields in the north. The World Bank barely reacted when the Chadian government broke an agreement about the use of oil revenues in 2005. Instead of investing the money in development and social programmes, it bought weapons. China rewarded Chad’s break with Taiwan by offering loans and received concessions in the oil sector in return.

France called for the deployment of EUFOR soldiers to at least stabilise the security situation – to some extent pursuing domestic interests. After initial hesitation, the EU agreed in spring to dispatch the EUFOR for one year. Until March 2009, 4000 soldiers from 14 countries will be in the country. Their mission is to repatriate the internally displaced as well as to protect refugees, UN staff and humanitarian personnel in Chad.

However, not all internally displaced persons can be repatriated. It is also unclear what will happen in March once the deployment of the EUFOR troops ends. The security situation will remain tense until the parliamentary elections which are planned for the end of 2009, with more coup attempts expected. There are more and more bandits in the east. Some compare the situation in eastern Chad to Somalia. It is expected that EUFOR will stay at least until the elections.
EUFOR has no control over the security of the 12 refugee camps along the Sudanese border because the EUFOR mandate only extends to the camp gates. Traditional order reigns in the camps. Girls and boys are recruited by different rebel troops. There are sexual assaults and violence. 850 Chadian police and commanders trained by the UN mission MINURCAT are meant to provide more security since October. There is also hope for the voluntary return of internally displaced persons.

Poverty and hardship as a permanent condition

It should come as no surprise that amidst this turmoil, Chad’s economic policy continues to focus on providing for the president and his followers, despite its official strategy of poverty reduction. The majority of the population has not received anything from the oil re­venues. More than 40 % of the approximately eight million people live below the poverty line. Poverty and hardship is a permanent condition. What can development cooperation achieve under these conditions?
This question is raised not only in Chad, but everywhere where persistent conflicts shape entire regions. German development policymakers assume that emergency assistance, approved in one-year cycles, can alleviate the worst misery within three years. Technical and financial cooperation should set in later to create structures sustainable in the long run.

Typically, however, there is a lack of corresponding state structures in the crisis region concerned. Who is supposed to practise “good governance” when there are hardly any governmental partners with integrity? Focussing on institution building cannot have the impact that the economically battered population needs.

Consequently, humanitarian relief and transition assistance are necessary for longer than originally planned in Chad – as in Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo too. These programmes are currently discussed and approved annually.

However, crisis regions need concepts that focus on essential issues with fast effect, building infrastructure and allowing for basic forms of organisation. Small-scale economic circuits must become possible. This can be achieved by paying the people who are involved in building roads.

There are many promising early signs of success in eastern Chad. Seasonal river management is important. It contributes to stabilising the economy of crisis regions. Rain water is retained with small dams and thus diverted into the ground water. Drinking water supply becomes more reliable, and agriculture benefits too. In the rainy season, torrents of water used to sweep fertile land away. These days, more millet and sorghum can be harvested.

Planting has also become possible in the off-season, and market gardening has greatly increased as a result. Farm families enjoy a much better diet and sell surplus goods at the local markets. The poor also bene­fit from this low-level progress. During the planting and harvest time, the farmers employ refugees from the camps and poor villagers as day labourers.

In the off-season, some lease land to farmers who do not live in the catchment area of the river management project. Such deals are regulated by written contracts, a practice that helps to settle disputes non-violently and to identify potential for conflict early on.

Some villages in eastern Chad had become uninhabitable in the dry season. Now, due to the appropriate river-management infrastructure, families can again stay in the villages all year round. Near the camps, farmers work together with Sudanese refugees, who are more experienced in market gardening.

Tradesmen and farmers learn technical skills through building the infrastructure. They are taught masonry and maintenance work at training sites. Sudanese refugees are involved too, in the hope that they will use these skills after they return to Sudan.

Crisis and conflict regions such as eastern Chad require measures which have a visible impact and are oriented towards the medium term. However, the annual appropriation period does not really allow for this to happen. Three-year appropriation periods would make better sense. Measures oriented towards the medium-term should be regarded as an intermediate step towards long-term, well-differentiated technical and financial cooperation, which can then concentrate on improving the underlying conditions.

Stabilisation and moderate economic progress in small, manageable areas must be the main focus of medium-term development cooperation. Development policy cannot really influence the underlying problems in crisis and conflict regions in the short term. It can, however, lay the foundations for sustaining the small-scale economy once it gets going again, thus contributing to overcoming violence politically and socially in the long term. The annual appropriation cycle of emergency aid is not sufficient to achieve this goal.

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