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Cameroon’s Water Wars: Fighting Over Choice Between Water or Animals Leaves Over 19 People Dead

By December 13, 2021No Comments

Sitting in the shade of a tree to protect herself from the searing heat, Djara Ibrahim watches dejectedly as builders work to reconstruct her shattered home.

The 62-year-old lost her home to marauding Choa-Arab herdsmen who attacked her village in August this year.

“It was a scary night.” She recalls. “We were lucky that we escaped, but we left everything behind.”

“I left with nothing, just the clothes I was putting on,” she says, almost in a whisper.

“Everything we ever labored for was burnt. They burnt our rice and millet. I lost over 700,000 CFA F (some USD1,500) in this store”.

Djara Ibrahim, a victim of the water-driven community armed conflict

USD1,500 is a huge amount for a woman living in a region where 74% of the people live below the poverty line-way above the national average of 37.5%.

“So, it’s by God’s Grace that we are living. God is protecting us. Look at the children- they don’t have any clothes and it’s freezing cold these days.”

With neither a house nor clothing, Djara fears the searing heat during the day and the freezing cold at night could cause more harm to her 13 children.

Hers is just one in the thousands of stories told by the about 125,000 people who fled the fighting, many migrating to neighboring Chad as refugees. Most of them have returned, but they all must scrape by, having lost everything.

Fighting broke out in August, leading to the deaths of at least 45 people.

At the heart of the conflict that simmers on, is the scarcity of water.

Where surface water used to flow in abundance is now parched earth. Environmentalists put the dwindling water sources to climate change.

As a result, Musghum fisher folk dug pools to retain water in the dry season. The pools turned out to be death traps for animals.

Djida Ali, Choa Arab chief

“When our animals go there to drink water in those pools, they fall into them. They break their limbs or drown. Sometimes, we must drag the animals out to safety using ropes” says Njidda Ali, chief of Arab-Choa village of Michiska.

He says if the Musgum fisherfolk want peace, “they must close those pools.”

But Musgum Chief, Blama Ousman Mazoumai fires back.

“Fishing is what defines us as a people,” he tells Timescape Magazine.

“There is no Musgum without fish. We only dug the pools for fishing.”

Blama Ousman, Musgum Chief

He says he was surprised at the reaction of the Choa Arabs who stormed their community, burning down houses, food, and all that was useful to them.

“These pools are over 15 years old. Now they want us to close them because they claim they kill their cattle, but we have never seen a single cow die in any of these pools.”

Young men from both communities still go around with bows and arrows, ready for another showdown.

From December 2-4, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Cameroonian authorities engaged in several activities and interventions to get the two communities talking.

These include peace forums characterized by cultural and sporting events that brought participants from both communities.

Jean Bosco Rushatsi, Senior Operations Coordinator at the UNHCR says the warring parties used the come-together to take the commitment to engage in dialogue.

Jean Bosco Rushatsi, Senior Operations Coordinator, UNHCR (C) Kenya News Agency

But rebuilding a sustainable peace goes beyond bringing both communities to the discussion table.

“We are still conducting a thorough assessment of development-related needs. What we have been able to provide now is emergency assistance, but we know that this will not be resolved with humanitarian assistance only. There is a need for drinking water, there is a need for arable land, there is a need for schools, and there is a need for health facilities. Those are not part of our humanitarian programs, but we are mobilizing support from financial institutions such as the World Bank.”

The UN body is already providing some urgent solutions to the water crisis. Bow holes have already been constructed in some localities, like the 55-meter-deep bow hole in the Amagoshe village constructed at an altitude of 291.

But it’s not enough.

Djara Ibrahim says it’s only when the water problem is definitively resolved that she and her children could be able to sleep comfortably at night.

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