SEATTLE — In 2014, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) declared climate change an official threat to basic human rights, including the rights to life, water, sanitation, food, health, housing, self-determination, culture and development. In a recent climate vulnerability survey, Chad was rated most vulnerable, placing human rights in Chad in great peril.
There are many factors that contribute to Chad’s vulnerability rating. The country is one of the poorest in the world, with 87 percent of its population classified as poor. Of its 57 years of independence, 35 of those have been dogged by civil war or another conflict. Chad’s geography offers little respite: 90 percent of the population lives in the southern half of the country, as the northern half extends well into the Sahara.
Most Chadians base their livelihoods on farming and livestock. Human rights in Chad have been hit the hardest in the Lake Chad region, where farmers, fishermen and livestock alike depend on the natural water resources. Lake Chad once spanned 25,000 square kilometers. A combination of a steady decrease in rainfall, increase in temperatures and subsequent increase in the need for crop irrigation reduced the lake to a mere 5.4 percent of its former expanse.
This process of desertification threatens the resources and livelihoods of 50 million people, a figure estimated to double by 2030. At present, more than 9.2 million people are already in need of humanitarian assistance in the region. The area also hosts 2.8 million refugees fleeing Boko Haram.
The “ecological catastrophe” of Lake Chad infringes on Chadians’ right to a reliable source of water, food and fertile land, robbing citizens of many economic opportunities. A strain on natural capital leads to competition and conflict which has the potential to destabilize entire regions and countries. Terrorist groups like Boko Haram are fueled by this climate crisis as they offer a sense of power and security to those facing thirst, hunger and poverty.
The alarm is exacerbated when the causes of the threats to human rights in Chad are studied. There is a trend in climate vulnerability as countries with a history of low carbon emissions tend to be the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, whereas countries with a history of high emissions are least vulnerable.
So the question arises as to who bears the responsibility for addressing the crisis of climate change and its implications. Since the early days of climate negotiations, countries have agreed on the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” which calls on wealthier emitters to do more to address global warming than poorer countries who emitted less historically. This is a logical solution which has yet to be brought to any sizable fruition.
Human rights in Chad may have a brighter future after the United Nations established the Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). While the situation in Lake Chad remains dire, the UNCCD is focusing its efforts on Africa’s Sahel region where it has already planted 12 million trees and restored 25,000 hectares of degraded land. Aid has arrived, but the task of returning basic human rights to millions of Chadians is far from complete.
– Sophie Nunnally