Violence and instability lead to widespread hunger across Chad

Government forces in the capital of Chad killed dozens of opposition protesters Thursday. Rights groups say the unarmed civilians were massacred as they protested having to wait two years for elections. People there are also suffering from a food crisis made by both man and the climate crisis. Special correspondent Willem Marx reports.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported earlier, government forces in the capital city of Chad killed dozens of opposition protesters today who were demanding a faster democratic transition.

    The country is also battling rebels and Islamist insurgents, and caught in the middle are civilians fleeing conflict inside Chad and throughout the region, and many are suffering from a food crisis.

    Special correspondent Willem Marx reports.

  • Willem Marx:

    For more than three days, Haoua Gawlou Moussa walked, swam and floated her way to safety, her life forever changed after the Islamist group Boko Haram burned her home in Western Chad.

  • Haoua Gawlou Moussa, Internally Displaced Chadian (through translator):

    During the night, while we were sleeping, at around 3:00 a.m., they set the village on fire. Some people died. Some escaped. Some people escaped, but left their children behind, like me.

  • Willem Marx:

    In the chaos of her departure, she lost sight of her kids, and has not seen them since.

  • Haoua Gawlou Moussa (through translator):

    I don't know. They might be dead. They might have died while crossing the river, or maybe on the spot. I don't know. We looked for them in several places, but we could not find them. They must be dead.

  • Willem Marx:

    Now living in her brother's village, she whisks together what little she has, water with flour, then finds twigs for fire to cook her surviving family's evening meal.

    It's hardly a feast, but at least, when it comes to her food supply, Haoua is one of the lucky ones. In a humanitarian convoy with a military escort, we travel several hours northwest towards Chad's border with Nigeria. Thousands of Nigerian refugees are housed here, many in tents, having fled Boko Haram onslaughts on their own homes.

  • Nasuri Saidu, Nigerian Refugee:

    Due to lack of food, whatever you have, you have to sell it and buy food for your children.

  • Willem Marx:

    Our camp guide is Nasuri Saidu, a former fisherman from a landscape of lakes now forced to rely on rations from the World Food Program.

    He introduces us to Yagana Ali Abakar, a mother of nine from Nigeria working to establish herself here as a seamstress. It's very much a family business, but it's far from booming. Even the sewing machine is rented. She owns almost nothing.

    So, this is a UNHCR-supplied house. And inside, I can see some mats, some clothes, some blankets, one small table, and a single earthenware pot.

    Why does she have so few possessions?

    "She came here with nothing," she says, "and most objects she's obtained since then, she's sold for food."

    Boko Haram's violence meant she spent five months on the move pregnant with one child and nursing another. Among her last remaining possessions, cooking pots that she now uses far too rarely.

  • Yagana Ali Abakar, Nigerian Refugee (through translator):

    The food given to me is not enough to feed myself and my children. I sell some of the basic food I'm given to buy ingredients for soup. I have said I needed to do something to help myself and my children.

  • Willem Marx:

    Her children are hungry, she told us, and had yet to eat the day we visit. Deep in debt since the last food distribution, they accompany her as she asks neighbors for support.

    She has no food today for her kids. Are there a lot of people like that?

  • Nasuri Saidu:

    A lot of people.

  • Willem Marx:

    Nasuri says camp residents with their own incomes can barter or buy food from makeshift markets like this. Many residents help one another, since aid agencies now share out supplies only every seven weeks.

    How do any families survive without food for nearly two months?

  • Nasuri Saidu:

    They can't, but there is help between neighbor to neighbor. That's why she said that she is going to ask for food within the camp.

  • Willem Marx:

    In large parts of rural Chad, the government has a limited presence. Mostly, it's the military that you see on the streets.

    But it's the agencies belonging to the U.N., like UNICEF or the World Food Program, that keep a lot of the infrastructure, including some of the airstrips here, operational.

    The country's military is one of the best armed and financed in the region. After decades of on-off civil conflicts, hundreds of rebels last year were taken prisoner last year and paraded on state TV. Many rebel groups are now in a national dialogue, and that's meant that conflict with Boko Haram has become the military's central mission, fighting inside Chad's territory, but also in neighboring Nigeria to beat back the group.

    Agassiz Baroum directs a Chadian think tank focused on the conflict, and says food shortages have helped the Islamist group to recruit.

  • Agassiz Baroum, Coordinator, Cefdah Think Tank (through translator):

    There is a connection between the insecurity caused by Boko Haram and food insecurity, because most people that we interviewed made us understand that, if they joined Boko Haram, it was in search of food.

  • Willem Marx:

    Alongside reduced rations from aid agencies, Baroum says continued violence exacerbates the problem.

  • Agassiz Baroum (through translator):

    This is where the conflict has accelerated food insecurity, because of the fact that Boko Haram carries out abuses, attacks, prevents the local population from going fishing, for example, from going to plow fields.

    All activities are on hold. And that's a reason why we are seeing an increase in this food insecurity.

  • Willem Marx:

    Back at the camp, Nasuri shows us his family home, grateful for the small support he receives here.

    And are people here in Chad, are they welcoming? Are they helping you?

  • Nasuri Saidu:

    They are welcoming, and they're helping us.

  • Willem Marx:

    It's seven years since he first arrived here, and his children are now hungry too. As funds fall at the World Food Program in Chad, known by its French initials, PAM, and food supplies have shrunk, his frustration at his own government grows.

  • Nasuri Saidu:

    I'm angry, but not with Chadian or even PAM or some NGOs, no, only Nigerian government. They know, and they have something to give us or to help us. They did nothing for us.

  • Willem Marx:

    In this border region, empty stomachs leave little room for laughter among locals and longtime guests alike.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Willem Marx in Dar es Salaam camp in Western Chad.

Listen to this Segment