The reports about the rainy season in Chad in 2022 were shocking: more than one million people displaced by floods and more than 465,000 hectares of farmland devastated, worsening already dire food insecurity. The floods – the worst in 30 years – led the president to call a state of emergency and an appeal to domestic and international humanitarian organizations and partners to support the government in assisting those affected.
By December the water levels of the Chari River had subsided to around 3.5 metres, from a peak of more than eight metres the month before. However, towards the end of the dry season, the water was still two metres higher than normal. I saw this for myself the following March, inspecting recently installed gauges along the river.
On one hand, communities accustomed to drought conditions were taking advantage of this situation, through small-scale irrigation and animal watering. On the other hand, however, these gauges were alerting us that since water level did not return to normal during the dry season, flooding was likely to occur during the next rainy season.
Indeed, in August 2023, flooding occurred again and displaced communities from Chad to Cameroon.
Why is Chad so vulnerable to climate change?
The Republic of Chad, the fifth largest country in Africa, consists of Saharan, Sahelian and Sudanian zones. It ranges from very hot and arid, transitioning to semi-arid, to sub-tropical, with a landscape characterized by three distinct basins, including the Chari, which is the country’s largest river, at 1,200-kilometres long, with its source in the Central African Republic, and its tributary, the Logoné, 1,000 km long, which flows from the Adamaoua plateau in Cameroon.
The landlocked country is among the hottest and driest in the world and has experienced persistent drought for decades. Due to the scarcity of water and the temporary drying up of certain waterways, communities have tended to settle and establish their livelihoods close to water. Excess rainfall from a wetter-than-normal season thus often leads to climatic hazards, thereby exacerbating communities vulnerability to flooding.
On top of this, Chad faces severe environmental degradation, weakened by climate variability. This vulnerability is exacerbated by intermittent or heavy rainfall, leading to frequent droughts, floods, and locust plagues. In the north, persistent drought conditions have hastened desertification, causing a reduction in areas suitable for crops and livestock production, and a shift in livestock grazing areas further south.
Chad is foreseen to only become hotter and drier throughout the 21st century, leading to less productive agriculture, and more damaging livestock grazing practices. The challenges are immense for a country in which around 80 percent of the population depend on subsistence farming and livestock for their livelihoods, and 42 percent of the population live below the national poverty line.
The government recognizes climate change as an important threat and is working with partners to tackle it. These initiatives will significantly contribute towards strengthening the country’s climate resilience.
Can Chad be match ready for adaptation?
In 2017, when Chad launched its National Adaptation Plan (NAP) process with UNDP’s support, the goal was to prepare for the medium- and long-term.
This initial work was important, laying the foundation for the launch of a four year project (2019 – 2023) led by the Ministry of the Environment, Fisheries and Sustainable Development. The goal was to integrate climate change adaptation into medium- and long-term planning and budgeting, enabling the country to manage its sensitivity to climate change in agriculture, livestock, fisheries, and water resources.
This project, supported by a US$5.8 million grant from the Global Environmental Facility-Least Developed Countries Fund and, notably, leveraging more than $23 million in co-financing, has made important headway in several key areas.
In February 2022, after a year of extensive consultations, the country submitted its first National Adaptation Plan to the UNFCCC, using information produced by the project. Aligned with the country’s Nationally determined Contributions (NDCs), the National Adaptation Plan is a very important milestone, setting the country up for an informed and effective response to climate change. The quality of the two documents has been acknowledged by the international community.
Sixty-four solar-powered synoptic stations were installed – expanding upon 16 functioning synoptic stations, and increasing coverage by four times – for real-time capture and transmission of weather information. The data goes to a central server in the capital, N’Djamena, where the project also built the capacity of the National Meteorological Agency to process it. Stakeholders from across climate-sensitive sectors have been trained in preparing and issuing weather forecasts, including for television broadcast. Staff gauges have been installed to support tracking and alerts about flood risks from the Chari and and Logone Rivers. The data is crucial to early warnings as well as guiding policy- and decision-making.
Valuable country-specific knowledge and guidance material has been developed for national institutions, including analyses of climatic vulnerability, how to prepare and publish a weather forecast, and guidelines for monitoring and evaluation of adaptation.
In support of planning processes, nine regional plans and budgets have been developed, effectively integrating priority adaptation actions.
What does one look like? In the province of Mayo-Kebbi West, which frequently suffers severe floods and droughts, including those in 2022, the plan laid out costed adaptation options in agriculture, water resource management, livestock farming, fisheries and aquaculture. Adaptation options included elevated water tanks, groundwater abstraction, irrigation development, and restoration of degraded landscapes.
The capacity of 520 policymakers in understanding the risks of climate change as well as identifying priority adaptation options has also been developed, five times more than the project’s original goal. This result reflects the very high interest levels within the country to take climate action.
It is promising to also see the Global Environment Facility and partners are implementing another UNDP-supported project advancing community-based climate risk management. This project is building on NAP to support communities in the use of climate information, enabling them to adapt and to take early action to safeguard their livelihoods and to swiftly recover through participation in climate-based insurance programmes.
Yet much more remains to be done. Coverage of the country’s climate monitoring system is still minute for the country’s size and needs. This year UNDP and partners facilitated the participation of Chad in the first group of seven countries to be supported by the $157 million global programme on Early Warning systems for All by 2027, an initiative spearheaded by the UN Secretary-General.
More finance is needed to turn plans into action and to meet the growing needs of various areas under threat from climate change.
Fortunately, the returns on investment are promising. Chad is one of the countries where action on adaptation easily turns into development gains and long-term positive outcomes.