DRC: When water scarcity forces the Mbororo to migrate

By John Kajunga, lecturer: Information & Communication Sciences, University of Yaounde

6 Dec 2022 by The Water Diplomat

Driven by the austerity of climate change, the Mbororos are forced to migrate and face various difficulties in their new living environments. Considered invaders by local populations, these pastoralists migrate to Central Africa and develop resilience measures for their survival.

Ango and Bondo are two territories of the province of Bas-Uelé in the North-West of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which have been experiencing a massive influx of climate migrants since 2002. An IKV Pax Christi report from 2008 indicates that the Mbororo belong to the Falatha or Foulani ethnic group, one of the largest ethnic groups in West Africa. They are found in several African states, particularly in the Central African Republic, Chad, Libya, Nigeria, Niger, Mauritania, Cameroon, etc. Their presence in the North-West of the DRC is a source of conflict. The local populations accuse them of possessing firearms, destroying fields and polluting rivers with their livestock.

“The Mbororo live mainly from livestock: the cow, not only represents wealth and social prestige for them, but also provides them with food security and income from the sale of milk", explains Obama Mesanga, anthropologist and communicator at the University of Yaoundé 2. However, although climate changes induce migratory movements, they alone are insufficient explanation for the decision to migrate.

In this regard, Hind AISSAOUI Bennani, IOM official in charge of West and Central Africa and based in Dakar qualifies in these terms: "it is true that climatic factors are very decisive in the migrations observed in Africa and internationally. Nevertheless, we must not lose sight of the multi-causality of environmental migrations”. And to add that “all migration is the result of the interaction of a variety of environmental and demographic factors, strengthening the resilience of migrant households”.

Drinking water, a rare commodity in the Sahel

In order to reduce inequalities at the global level, the new SDGs call on governments to guarantee universal access to basic social services, and in particular to water, by 2030. This objective seems far from being achieved after nearly 8 years of the 2030 Agenda.

A recent UNICEF/WHO report on progress in providing drinking water notes that globally, 2.1 billion people do not have access to safely managed water and 844 million are without water supplies. This report also indicates that among these people, 263 million live more than 30 minutes from the first water point while 159 million continue to drink untreated surface water drawn from rivers or lakes.

Chad is one of the countries from which transhumant Mbororo pastoralists come from who emigrate to the DRC in search of pasture for their cattle and company. They are developing resilient solutions in the face of the austerity of the climate and its cohort of misfortunes.

In the Sahel, limited water supply coverage poses serious problems for populations despite great efforts by the government and international organizations.

Some residents interviewed in Chad by André Kol Majinga, VOA correspondent for the Washington Forum program on World Water Day, paint a gloomy picture of their water supply and describe the ordeal they experience day by day. day: "It's all well and good to celebrate World Water Day, but what water is it? Asks a resident met in the streets of Djamena. And to add “last month I came back from the interior of Chad. We still drink water from the wells and when we bring this water out, it has a red color,” says this 50-something man indignantly. “There are even insects in it. It is really the blackmail of the government and the Chadian water company” he concludes, frowning.

Comments from a young lady, in her late twenties, are mixed. “The Chadian population has access to drinking water compared to previous years, given the efforts made by the government”. She qualifies her remarks and stresses that "we cannot say that the Chadian population has full access to drinking water, because the further we go from the city, the more the problem of access to water feel. Even some provinces of Chad are experiencing this water problem. There is water, but it is not of good quality because it causes stomach aches,” she complains.

Deconstructing alarmist forecasts

Alarmist remarks are sometimes nuanced by researchers. “While the scientific evidence shows that the effects of climate change are clear, there is no cause for undue alarm. We must instead develop measures to mitigate and adapt to climate change.” says Muhigwa Jean Berchmans, environmentalist and professor at the Official University of Bukavu in the DRC.

Groundwater can be a backup source during times when rivers and lakes dry up. The UNESCO report as well as that produced jointly by the NGO Water Aid and the British Institute of Geology reassure that “there are sufficient water resources for the African continent. It is still necessary to make them available and accessible for drinking water and irrigation,” reassures Mariam Dem, Director of Special Projects for the NGO Water Aid during an interview given to Abdourahmane Dia of the VOA in March 2022.

Groundwater is a palliative resource capable of thwarting the apocalypse described by some skeptical climate researchers. Governments and other actors involved in water management will have to strengthen water coverage and accessibility and thus meet the 6th SDG by 2030.