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Climate change fuels violence and mass displacement in Cameroon

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Intercommunity clashes in Cameroon has forced thousands to flee to Chad. © UNHCR/Aristophane Ngargoune

A flare-up in intercommunal fighting in northern Cameroon has forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes and brought a halt to aid operations there, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Friday. 

The development is just the latest episode in the difficult relationship between the region’s herders, fishermen and farmers, who have seen the waters and tributaries of Lake Chad shrink dramatically, because of climate change-induced drought. 

In Geneva, UNHCR spokesperson Boris Cheshirkov explained that clashes had broken out in recent days in the village of Ouloumsa, following a dispute over dwindling water resources

The violence then spread to neighbouring villages, leaving 10 villages burned to the ground. 

Escalating tensions 

UNHCR is deeply concerned by renewed intercommunal clashes that erupted this week in Cameroon’s Far North region, displacing thousands inside the country and forcing more than 30,000 people to flee to neighbouring Chad,” Mr. Cheshirkov said. “Since Sunday 5 December, at least 22 people have been killed and 30 others seriously injured during several days of ongoing fighting.” 

Fighting then erupted three days later, on 8 December, in the Cameroonian city of Kousseri, a commercial hub with 200,000 inhabitants, according to UNHCR. 

In addition to the destruction of the cattle market, Mr. Cheshirkov noted that “at least 10,000 people fled Kousseri to Chad’s capital, N’djamena…only a few kilometres across the Chari and Logone rivers, which mark the border with Cameroon”. 

8 in 10 fleeing are women and children  

The UNHCR official noted that fully eight in 10 of the new arrivals were women – many of whom are pregnant – and children. “They have found refuge in N’Djamena and villages along Chad’s bank of the Logone river,” Mr. Cheshirkov told journalists during a scheduled briefing. 

The UN agency also welcomed Chad’s hospitality towards the new arrivals, even though it is already home to close to a million refugees and internally displaced people. 

In partnership with the authorities, Mr. Cheshirkov said that UN agencies and partners were “rushing to support the Cameroonian refugees with emergency shelter and assistance”. 

In Cameroon’s Far North, although security forces have been dispatched to the affected areas, the UNHCR spokesperson noted that the situation remained “volatile”, forcing UNHCR to suspend its operations there. 

Reconciliation initiative 

In August, the agency reported an initial outbreak of intercommunal violence in Cameroon that left 45 people dead and 23,000 forcibly displaced, 8,500 of whom have remained in Chad. 

In addition to providing immediate emergency aid, UNHCR and the authorities have been leading reconciliation efforts in Cameroon’s Kousseri since last week. 

This has resulted in representatives of communities committing to put an end to the violence. “But without urgent action to address the root causes of the crisis, the situation could escalate further,” Mr. Cheshirkov maintained. 

“What we see is intercommunal tension between the farmers and the fishermen from one side, and these and Muslim fishermen and farmers, and then the Arabic traders.  

The main reason that this tension has been breaking and getting worse is climate change, because that they depend on the waters of the Logone river, which is one of main tributaries of Lake Chad; Lake Chad has been shrinking over six decades now, it has lost 95 per cent of its surface water.” 

So far this year, UNHCR’s funding appeal to help the most vulnerable people in Chad and Cameroon are only around 50 per cent funded. 

An international responsibility 

Over and above the $99.6 million required for operations in Cameroon and the $141 million for Chad, UNHCR appealed to the international community for much greater support to help developing countries adapt to the kind of climate shocks that are behind the crises that the agency is increasingly responding to. 

Needs are particularly acute in the nearby Sahel region, where countries including Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso are experiencing climate change-induced temperature rises that are 1.5 times faster than the global average, Mr. Cheshirkov explained. 

“The climate crisis is a human crisis; we’re seeing it in the Sahel, we’re seeing it in Far North Cameroon, we’re seeing it in East Africa, in the drought corridor of Latin America, we’re seeing it in South Asia, so many parts of the world where we have displaced communities. In fact, 90 per cent of refugees are coming from climate vulnerable hotspots.” 

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Africa Today

Ethiopia’s Ministry of Industry, UNIDO sign €2m agreement

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Ethiopia’s Ministry of Industry and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) have signed a €2m agreement to support Integrated Agro-Industrial Parks (IAIPs), funded by the Italian Agency for Development and Cooperation. Thes agreement will contribute to the development of the agro-industrial sector and the creation of decent jobs and economic opportunities in the rural areas of Ethiopia. The objective of the new project is to support the inclusive and sustainable development of four pilot IAIPs. Project activities will concentrate on increasing private sector involvement in agro-industry, improving food quality, safety and traceability, and promoting social inclusion and environmental sustainability.

With the support of UNIDO, the Government of Ethiopia has prioritized the establishment of the IAIPs as a primary tool to achieve agricultural modernization and rural industrialization in the country. To this end, the Government of Ethiopia has mobilized various funding sources and development partners for the implementation of IAIPs. The current project is for the development of the four pilot IAIPs, located in Oromia (Bulbula), Sidama (Yirgalem), Amhara (Bure) and Tigray (Beaker). The project is funded by the Italian Agency for Development and Cooperation, in alignment with the Italian strategy outlined in the Ethio-Italian country framework 2017 – 2019 which encourages sustainable and inclusive economic growth to ensure full employment and decent work for all, especially in rural areas, as well as promoting partnerships between Italian and Ethiopian institutions to ensure continuity of investment and transfer of technologies.

The signature ceremony was attended by Shisema Gebreselassie, State Minister of the Ministry of Industry, Aurelia Patrizia Calabrò, UNIDO Representative and Director of the Regional Office Hub, and Isabella Lucaferri, Head of the AICS Addis Ababa Office.  

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Sudan: Looting in Darfur, leaves 730,000 without enough to eat

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UN Photo/Albert Gonzalez Farran. UN Photo/Albert González Farran

The UN chief condemned on Wednesday the looting and attacks against United Nations facilities, equipment and supplies gifted to the Sudanese authorities for civilian in El Fasher, Darfur. 

Last Tuesday evening, a World Food Programme (WFPwarehouse located in the Borsa area of El Fasher town, the capital of North Darfur State, came under attack from unknown armed groups. 

Over 1,900 metric tons of food commodities that were meant to feed 730,000 vulnerable people for a month were stolen. 

The incident followed the looting and reported violence last week at the former UN-African Union Hybrid Operation (UNAMID) base in El Fasher. 

Restore order 

In his statementSecretary-General António Guterres called upon the Government of Sudan to restore order.  

He stressed that the authorities must ensure that former UNAMID property and assets are strictly used for civilians – in conformity with the Framework Agreement the Government signed in March.  

The UN chief also asked the Sudanese authorities to facilitate the safe working environment and passage for remaining UN operations in the region. 

He concluded by thanking the UN civilian and uniformed personnel who remain on the ground under “challenging” circumstances. 

WFP cuts off aid

WFP chief David Beasley tweeted his outrage over the “senseless attacks” in El Fasher and strongly condemned the continued looting and destruction of the agency’s assets.  

“As a result, we have been forced to suspend WFP operations in North Darfur, effective immediately”, said Mr. Beasly.

The theft has robbed nearly two million Sudanese of the food and nutritional support they so desperately need.  

“Not only is this a tremendous setback to WFP operations, but it endangers our staff and jeopardizes our ability to meet the needs of the most vulnerable families”, he added.

Humanitarian crisis 

The Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan, Khardiata Lo N’diaye, also condemned the looting.  

“This was food assistance meant for Sudan’s most vulnerable people. Humanitarian assistance should never be a target”, she underscored. 

Currently, one in three people in Sudan needs humanitarian assistance – equivalent to an estimated 14.3 million individuals.  

According to the 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan, 25 per cent of those people require food security and livelihoods support. 

An attack like this, the coordinator explained, severely impedes the ability to deliver to the people who need it the most. 

“We urgently ask all parties to adhere to humanitarian principles and allow the safe delivery of life-saving assistance”, Ms. N’diaye stated. 

WFP currently faces “unprecedented” funding shortfalls, estimated at $358 million. 

Violence 

Earlier in the month, thousands of people took to the streets to mark the third anniversary of the uprising that led to the April 2019 overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir, who had ruled for three decades.  

Demonstrators who made for the presidential palace were also protesting October’s military coup and the political agreement signed later on 21 November.  

UN officials and agencies expressed deep concern at the time over credible reports of serious human rights violations, including the use of rape and gang rape of women and girls, employed to disperse protesters.  

As of 29 December, the security situation had been restored, according to State authorities.  

Ms. N’diaye thanked the local authorities for preventing the situation from worsening but called upon the Government to step up efforts to protect and safeguard humanitarian premises and assets. 

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Thousands head home voluntarily from Zambia to DR Congo

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photo: © UNHCR/Rocco Nuri

Nearly 5,000 refugees who fled violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) four years ago, are opting to head home voluntarily from Zambia over the coming months, with the first 100 people setting out on Tuesday. 

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said that security had improved sufficiently in DR Congo’s Pweto territory, Haut-Katanga province, for them to go home “in safety and dignity”.

Inter-ethnic clashes as well as fighting between Congolese security forces and militia groups in parts of southeastern DRC in 2017, have uprooted communities. 

Through intention surveys carried out in October by UNHCR, some 4,774 refugees expressed their aim to voluntarily return to DRC.

International agreement

The voluntary repatriation, which will continue into 2022, is part of the ongoing 2006 tripartite agreement between UNHCR and the Governments of Zambia and DR Congo.

Partners are supporting the returning refugees by providing voluntary repatriation documents, expedited immigration clearance, health screening and school certificates to allow children to resume their education in the DRC.

“As security has improved in some areas of Haut-Katanga, an estimated 20,000 refugees have spontaneously left Zambia since 2018 to return to their areas of origin – mainly to Pweto territory”, UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch told journalists in Geneva.

Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency is working with authorities and development partners – such as Catholic aid confederation CARITAS – in DRC to advance reintegration projects, including education, health and agriculture, and to ensure conditions for safe and dignified returns.

Currently, some 18,000 Congolese refugees farm at Mantapala settlement – established in early 2018 to accommodate displaced people – alongside 5,000 Zambians, across 11 integrated villages.

As Zambia continues to host 103,000 refugees, asylum seekers, and former refugees, including more than 63,000 from DR Congo, over the past three years around 20,000 Congolese have left to return home.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and World Food Programme (WFP) are assisting in repatriation efforts.

Agency support

The two agencies have provided buses and trucks to help transport refugees, their belongings and food for the journey, Families will receive a cash grant to help them pick up their lives again in the DRC.

“UNHCR will disinfect the buses, provide face masks, hand sanitizers and, together with the authorities, ensure that COVID-19 prevention measures are observed, including loading of buses to half the capacity”, Mr. Baloch said.

UNICEF has improved water and sanitation facilities at the reception centre in Chiengi district, where returning refugees are being housed for the night to process immigration documents, before embarking on the final leg of their journey home.

And Zambian authorities are providing rapid COVID-19 tests for the returning refugees, at the Mantapala Rural Health Centre.

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