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An upsurge in inter-communal fighting in northern Cameroon has forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes and halted aid operations there, the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said on Friday.
This development is just the latest installment in the difficult relationship between pastoralists, fishermen and farmers in the region, which has seen Lake Chad’s waters and tributaries shrink dramatically, due to climate change-induced drought. .
In Geneva, UNHCR spokesperson Boris Cheshirkov explained that clashes had erupted in recent days in the village of Uloumsa, following a dispute over the decrease in water resources.
The violence then spread to neighboring villages, leaving 10 villages ablaze.
“UNHCR deeply concerned about resumption of inter-communal clashes that erupted this week in the Far North region of Cameroon, displacing thousands of people inside the country and forcing more than 30,000 people to flee to neighboring Chad, âMr. Cheshirkov said. âSince Sunday, December 5, at least 22 people have been killed and 30 others seriously injured during days of relentless fighting.
Fighting then broke out three days later, on December 8, in the Cameroonian town of Kousseri, a commercial hub of 200,000 inhabitants, according to the UNHCR.
In addition to the destruction of the cattle market, Mr. Cheshirkov noted that âat least 10,000 people fled Kousseri to the capital of Chad, N’djamenaâ¦ just a few kilometers away across the Chari and Logone rivers, which mark the border with Cameroon â.
8 out of 10 people fleeing are women and children
The UNHCR official noted that at least eight in ten new arrivals were women – many of whom are pregnant – and children. “They found refuge in N’Djamena and in villages along the Chadian side of the Logone River,” Cheshirkov told reporters at a scheduled briefing.
The UN agency also praised the hospitality of Chad towards the new arrivals, even though it is already home to nearly a million refugees and internally displaced persons.
In partnership with the authorities, Cheshirkov said United Nations agencies and partners “were rushing to support Cameroonian refugees with shelter and emergency assistance”.
In the Far North of Cameroon, although security forces were dispatched to the affected areas, the UNHCR spokesperson noted that the situation remained “volatile”, forcing UNHCR to suspend its operations there.
In August, the agency reported a first outbreak of intercommunal violence in Cameroon that left 45 people dead and 23,000 forcibly displaced, of which 8,500 remained in Chad.
In addition to providing immediate emergency assistance, UNHCR and authorities have been leading reconciliation efforts in Kousseri, Cameroon since last week.
This led to community representatives making a commitment to end the violence. “Corn without urgent action to address the root causes of the crisis, the situation could escalate further“Said Mr. Cheshirkov.
âWhat we are seeing is inter-community tension between farmers and fishermen on one side, and these and Muslim fishermen and farmers, then Arab traders.
“The main reason this tension has erupted and worsened is climate change., because they depend on the waters of the Logone River, which is one of the main tributaries of Lake Chad; Lake Chad has been shrinking for more than six decades now, it has lost 95% of its surface water.
So far this year, UNHCR’s appeal for funds to help the most vulnerable in Chad and Cameroon is only about 50 percent funded.
An international responsibility
Beyond the $ 99.6 million required for operations in Cameroon and $ 141 million for Chad, UNHCR called on the international community for much greater support to help developing countries adapt to the type of climatic shocks that are at the origin of the crises to which the agency responds more and more to.
The needs are particularly acute in the neighboring Sahel region, where countries like Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso are experiencing climate change-induced temperature increases that are 1.5 times faster than the global average, explained. Mr. Cheshirkov.
âThe climate crisis is a human crisis; we see it in the Sahel, we see it in the Far North of Cameroon, we see it in East Africa, in the drought corridor of Latin America, we see it in South Asia, so many regions of the world where we have displaced communities. In fact, 90% of refugees come from climate-vulnerable hotspots. ”